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Who said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
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Choice Quotes (40 quotes)

Boss: Dilbert, You have been chosen to design the world's safest nuclear power plant.
Dilbert: This is the great assignment that any engineer could hope for. I'm flattered by the trust you have in me.
Boss: By "safe" I mean "not near my house."
Dilbert comic strip (18 Feb 2002).
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Wenn sich für ein neues Fossil kein, auf eigenthümliche Eigenschaften desselben hinweisender, Name auffinden lassen Will; als in welchem Falle ich mich bei dem gegenwärtigen zu befinden gestehe; so halte ich es für besser, eine solche Benennung auszuwählen, die an sich gar nichts sagt, und folglich auch zu keinen unrichtigen Begriffen Anlass geben kann. Diesem zufolge will ich den Namen für die gegenwärtige metallische Substanz, gleichergestalt wie bei dem Uranium geschehen, aus der Mythologie, und zwar von den Ursöhnen der Erde, den Titanen, entlehnen, und benenne also dieses neue Metallgeschlecht: Titanium.
Wherefore no name can be found for a new fossil [element] which indicates its peculiar and characteristic properties (in which position I find myself at present), I think it is best to choose such a denomination as means nothing of itself and thus can give no rise to any erroneous ideas. In consequence of this, as I did in the case of Uranium, I shall borrow the name for this metallic substance from mythology, and in particular from the Titans, the first sons of the earth. I therefore call this metallic genus TITANIUM.
Martin Heinrich Klaproth. Original German edition, Beiträge Zur Chemischen Kenntniss Der Mineralkörper (1795), Vol. 1 , 244. English edition, translator not named, Analytical Essays Towards Promoting the Chemical Knowledge of Mineral Substances (1801), Vol. 1, 210. Klaproth's use of the term fossil associates his knowledge of the metal as from ore samples dug out of a mine.
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[Pechblende] einer eigenthümlichen, selbstständigen metallischen Substanz bestehe. Es fallen folglich auch deren bisherige Benennungen, als: Ресhblende Eisenpecherz, hinweg, welche nun durch einen neuen ausschliessend bezeichnenden Namen zu ersetzen sind. Ich habe dazu den Namen: Uranerz (Uranium) erwählt; zu einigem Andenken, dass die chemische Ausfindung dieses neuen Metallkörpers in die Epoche der astronomischen. Entdeckung des Planeten Uranus gefallen sei.
[Pitchblende] consists of a peculiar, distinct, metallic substance. Therefore its former denominations, pitch-blende, pitch-iron-ore, &c. are no longer applicable, and must be supplied by another more appropriate name.—I have chosen that of uranite, (Uranium), as a kind of memorial, that the chemical discovery of this new metal happened in the period of the astronomical discovery of the new planet Uranus.
In original German edition, Beiträge Zur Chemischen Kenntniss Der Mineralkörper (1797), Vol. 2, 215. English edition, translator not named, Analytical Essays Towards Promoting the Chemical Knowledge of Mineral Substances (1801), 491. The new planet was discovered on 13 Mar 1781 by William Herschel, who originally named it Georgium Sidus (George's Star) to honour King George III.
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A game is on, at the other end of this infinite distance, and heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason you cannot leave either; according to reason you cannot leave either undone... Yes, but wager you must; there is no option, you have embarked on it. So which will you have. Come. Since you must choose, let us see what concerns you least. You have two things to lose: truth and good, and two things to stake: your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness. And your nature has two things to shun: error and misery. Your reason does not suffer by your choosing one more than the other, for you must choose. That is one point cleared. But your happiness? Let us weigh gain and loss in calling heads that God is. Reckon these two chances: if you win, you win all; if you lose, you lose naught. Then do not hesitate, wager that He is.
Pensées (1670), Section I, aphorism 223. In H. F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal's Pensées (1950), 117-119.
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An amoeba never is torn apart through indecision, though, for even if two parts of the amoeba are inclined to go in different directions, a choice is always made. We could interpret this as schizophrenia or just confusion, but it could also be a judicious simultaneous sampling of conditions, in order to make a wise choice of future direction.
In The Center of Life: A Natural History of the Cell (1977, 1978), 73.
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As in political revolutions, so in paradigm choice—there is no standard higher than the assent of the relevant community... this issue of paradigm choice can never be unequivocally settled by logic and experiment alone.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), 93.
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As soon as questions of will or decision or reason or choice of action arise, human science is at a loss.
From a British television interview (30 Mar 1978) quoted in The Listener (6 Apr 1978). In Alfred J. Kolatch, Great Jewish Quotations (1996), 87.
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Charles Darwin [is my personal favorite Fellow of the Royal Society]. I suppose as a physical scientist I ought to have chosen Newton. He would have won hands down in an IQ test, but if you ask who was the most attractive personality then Darwin is the one you'd wish to meet. Newton was solitary and reclusive, even vain and vindictive in his later years when he was president of the society.
From interview with Graham Lawton, 'One Minute with Martin Rees', in New Scientist (12 Dec 2009), 204, No. 2738.
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Deductivism in mathematical literature and inductivism in scientific papers are simply the postures we choose to be seen in when the curtain goes up and the public sees us. The theatrical illusion is shattered if we ask what goes on behind the scenes. In real life discovery and justification are almost always different processes.
Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought (1969), 26.
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Even if I could be Shakespeare I think that I should still choose to be Faraday.
In 1925, attributed. Walter M. Elsasser, Memoirs of a Physicist in the Atomic Age (1978), epigraph.
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Evolution advances, not by a priori design, but by the selection of what works best out of whatever choices offer. We are the products of editing, rather than of authorship.
In 'The Origin of Optical Activity', Annals of the New York Academy of Science (1957), 69, 367.
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I am always surprised when a young man tells me he wants to work at cosmology. I think of cosmology as something that happens to one, not something one can choose.
In Presidential Address (8 Feb 1963), Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society (Mar 1963), 4, 185.
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I am opposed to looking upon logic as a kind of game. … One might think that it is a matter of choice or convention which logic one adopts. I disagree with this view.
Objective Knowledge: an Evolutionary Approach (1972), 304.
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I despise Birth-Control first because it is ... an entirely meaningless word; and is used so as to curry favour even with those who would first recoil from its real meaning. The proceeding these quack doctors recommend does not control any birth. ... But these people know perfectly well that they dare not write the plain word Birth-Prevention, in any one of the hundred places where they write the hypocritical word Birth-Control. They know as well as I do that the very word Birth-Prevention would strike a chill into the public... Therefore they use a conventional and unmeaning word, which may make the quack medicine sound more innocuous. ... A child is the very sign and sacrament of personal freedom. He is a fresh will added to the wills of the world; he is something that his parents have freely chosen to produce ... he is their own creative contribution to creation.
In 'Babies and Distributism', The Well and the Shadows (1935). Collected in G. K. Chesterton and Dale Ahlquist (ed.), In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton (2011), 272.
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In the expressions we adopt to prescribe physical phenomena we necessarily hover between two extremes. We either have to choose a word which implies more than we can prove, or we have to use vague and general terms which hide the essential point, instead of bringing it out. The history of electrical theories furnishes a good example.
Opening Address to the Annual Meeting of the British Association by Prof. Arthur Schuster, in Nature (4 Aug 1892), 46, 325.
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It is not always the most brilliant speculations nor the choice of the most exotic materials that is most profitable. I prefer Monsieur de Reaumur busy exterminating moths by means of an oily fleece; or increasing fowl production by making them hatch without the help of their mothers, than Monsieur Bemouilli absorbed in algebra, or Monsieur Leibniz calculating the various advantages and disadvantages of the possible worlds.
Spectacle, 1, 475. Quoted in Camille Limoges, 'Noel-Antoine Pluche', in C. C. Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1974 ), Vol. 11, 43.
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Man at last knows that he is alone in the unfeeling immensity of the universe, out of which he emerged only by chance. Neither his destiny nor his duty have been written down. The kingdom above or the darkness below: it is for him to choose.
Concluding remarks in Jacques Monod and Austryn Wainhouse (trans.), Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1972), 180.
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Man has risen, not fallen. He can choose to develop his capacities as the highest animal and to try to rise still farther, or he can choose otherwise. The choice is his responsibility, and his alone. There is no automatism that will carry him upward without choice or effort and there is no trend solely in the right direction. Evolution has no purpose; man must supply this for himself. The means to gaining right ends involve both organic evolution and human evolution, but human choice as to what are the right ends must be based on human evolution.
The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life and of its Significance for Man (1949), 310.
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My work always tried to unite the true with the beautiful, but when I had to choose one or the other, I usually chose the beautiful.
As quoted by Freeman Dyson in Obituary for Hermann Weyl in Nature (10 Mar 1956). In James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (2000), Vol. 3, 1831.
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Physicists speak of the particle representation or the wave representation. Bohr's principle of complementarity asserts that there exist complementary properties of the same object of knowledge, one of which if known will exclude knowledge of the other. We may therefore describe an object like an electron in ways which are mutually exclusive—e.g., as wave or particle—without logical contradiction provided we also realize that the experimental arrangements that determine these descriptions are similarly mutually exclusive. Which experiment—and hence which description one chooses—is purely a matter of human choice.
The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature (1982), 94.
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Psychologism is, I believe, correct only in so far as it insists upon what may be called 'methodological individualism' as opposed to 'methodological collectivism'; it rightly insists that the 'behaviour' and the 'actions' of collectives, such as states or social groups, must be reduced to the behaviour and to the actions of human individuals. But the belief that the choice of such an individualist method implies the choice of a psychological method is mistaken.
The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945), Vol. 22, 87.
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Science is concerned with what is possible while engineering is concerned with choosing, from among the many possible ways, one that meets a number of often poorly stated economic and practical objectives.
From Turing Award lecture (1968), 'One Man's View of Computer Science', collected in ACM Turing Award Lectures: The First Twenty Years, 1966 to 1985 (1987), 209. ACM is the Association for Computing Machinery. Also in Journal of the ACM (Jan 1969), 16, No. 1, 5.
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Science now finds itself in paradoxical strife with society: admired but mistrusted; offering hope for the future but creating ambiguous choice; richly supported yet unable to fulfill all its promise; boasting remarkable advances but criticized for not serving more directly the goals of society.
How to Win the Nobel Prize: An Unexpected Life in Science (2004), xi.
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Science, by itself, cannot supply us with an ethic. It can show us how to achieve a given end, and it may show us that some ends cannot be achieved. But among ends that can be achieved our choice must be decided by other than purely scientific considerations. If a man were to say, “I hate the human race, and I think it would be a good thing if it were exterminated,” we could say, “Well, my dear sir, let us begin the process with you.” But this is hardly argument, and no amount of science could prove such a man mistaken.
'The Science to Save us from Science', New York Times Magazine (19 Mar 1950). Collected in M. Gardner (ed.), Great Essays in Science (1950), 396-397.
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Scientists like myself merely use their gifts to show up that which already exists, and we look small compared to the artists who create works of beauty out of themselves. If a good fairy came and offered me back my youth, asking me which gifts I would rather have, those to make visible a thing which exists but which no man has ever seen before, or the genius needed to create, in a style of architecture never imagined before, the great Town Hall in which we are dining tonight, I might be tempted to choose the latter.
Nobel Banquet Speech (10 Dec 1962).
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Simple goitre is so simple to prevent that it can disappear as soon as society makes the choice.
(1915) As quoted in Basil S. Hetzel, Chance and Commitment: Memoirs of a Medical Scientist (2005), 195.
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Suppose that we are wise enough to learn and know—and yet not wise enough to control our learning and knowledge, so that we use it to destroy ourselves? Even if that is so, knowledge remains better than ignorance. It is better to know—even if the knowledge endures only for the moment that comes before destruction—than to gain eternal life at the price of a dull and swinish lack of comprehension of a universe that swirls unseen before us in all its wonder. That was the choice of Achilles, and it is mine, too.
Widely seen on the Web, but always without citation, so regard attribution as uncertain. Webmaster has not yet found reliable verification. Contact Webmaster if you know a primary print source.
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The indescribable pleasure—which pales the rest of life's joys—is abundant compensation for the investigator who endures the painful and persevering analytical work that precedes the appearance of the new truth, like the pain of childbirth. It is true to say that nothing for the scientific scholar is comparable to the things that he has discovered. Indeed, it would be difficult to find an investigator willing to exchange the paternity of a scientific conquest for all the gold on earth. And if there are some who look to science as a way of acquiring gold instead of applause from the learned, and the personal satisfaction associated with the very act of discovery, they have chosen the wrong profession.
In Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Neely Swanson (trans.) and Larry W. Swanson (trans.), Advice for a Young Investigator (2004), 50.
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The scientist is not responsible for the laws of nature. It is his job to find out how these laws operate. It is the scientist’s job to find the ways in which these laws can serve the human will. However, it is not the scientist’s job to determine whether a hydrogen bomb should be constructed, whether it should be used, or how it should be used. This responsibility rests with the American people and with their chosen representatives.
In 'Back to the Laboratories', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Mar 1950), 6, No. 3, 71. Quoted in L. Wolpert and A. Richards (eds.), A Passion for Science (1988), 9, but incorrectly attributed to Robert Oppenheimer.
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The secret of science is to ask the right question, and it is the choice of problem more than anything else that marks the man of genius in the scientific world.
As quoted in the Inaugural Sir Henry Tizard Memorial Lecture at Westminster School (21 Feb 1963) by Sir George Thomson 'Research in Theory and Practice'. As cited Ray Corrigan, Digital Decision Making: Back to the Future (2007), 142.
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The word, “Vitamine,” served as a catchword which meant something even to the uninitiated, and it was not by mere accident that just at that time, research developed so markedly in this direction. Our view as to the fortunate choice of this name is strengthened, on the one hand, because it has become popular (and a badly chosen catchword, like a folksong without feeling, can never become popular), and on the other, because of the untiring efforts of other workers to introduce a varied nomenclature, for example, “accessory food factors, food hormones, water-soluble B and fat-soluble A, nutramine, and auximone” (for plants). Some of these designations are certainly not better, while others are much worse than “Vitamine.”
The Vitamines translated by Harry Ennis Dubin (1922), 18.
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There cannot be design without a designer; contrivance without a contriver; order without choice; arrangement, without any thing capable of arranging; subserviency and relation to a purpose; means suitable to an end, and executing their office in accomplishing that end, without the end ever having been contemplated, or the means accommodated to it. Arrangement, disposition of parts, subserviency of means to an end, relation of instruments to use, imply the preference of intelligence and mind.
Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of The Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature (1802), 12.
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There is an influence which is getting strong and stronger day by day, which shows itself more and more in all departments of human activity, and influence most fruitful and beneficial—the influence of the artist. It was a happy day for the mass of humanity when the artist felt the desire of becoming a physician, an electrician, an engineer or mechanician or—whatnot—a mathematician or a financier; for it was he who wrought all these wonders and grandeur we are witnessing. It was he who abolished that small, pedantic, narrow-grooved school teaching which made of an aspiring student a galley-slave, and he who allowed freedom in the choice of subject of study according to one's pleasure and inclination, and so facilitated development.
'Roentgen Rays or Streams', Electrical Review (12 Aug 1896). Reprinted in The Nikola Tesla Treasury (2007), 307. By Nikola Tesla
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To the average mathematician who merely wants to know his work is securely based, the most appealing choice is to avoid difficulties by means of Hilbert's program. Here one regards mathematics as a formal game and one is only concerned with the question of consistency ... . The Realist position is probably the one which most mathematicians would prefer to take. It is not until he becomes aware of some of the difficulties in set theory that he would even begin to question it. If these difficulties particularly upset him, he will rush to the shelter of Formalism, while his normal position will be somewhere between the two, trying to enjoy the best of two worlds.
In Axiomatic Set Theory (1971), 9-15. In Thomas Tymoczko, New Directions in the Philosophy of Mathematics: an Anthology (), 11-12.
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We are at our human finest, dancing with our minds, when there are more choices than two. Sometimes there are ten, even twenty different ways to go, all but one bound to be wrong, and the richness of the selection in such situations can lift us onto totally new ground.
In The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974, 1979), 39.
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We cannot cheat on DNA. We cannot get round photosynthesis. We cannot say I am not going to give a damn about phytoplankton. All these tiny mechanisms provide the preconditions of our planetary life. To say we do not care is to say in the most literal sense that “we choose death.”
In Maurice F. Strong (ed.), Who Speaks For Earth (1973), 31. In Robert Andrews, The Columbia Book of Quotations (1993), 261.
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Why do the laws that govern [the universe] seem constant in time? One can imagine a Universe in which laws are not truly law-full. Talk of miracle does just this, invoking God to make things work. Physics aims to find the laws instead, and hopes that they will be uniquely constrained, as when Einstein wondered whether God had any choice when He made the Universe.
Gregory Benford, in John Brockman, What We Believe But Cannot Prove. In Clifford A. Pickover, Archimedes to Hawking: Laws of Science and the Great Minds Behind Them (2008), 182-183.
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Why should a lobster be any more ridiculous than a dog? ... or a cat, or a gazelle, or a lion, or any other animal one chooses to take for a walk? I have a liking for lobsters. They are peaceful, serious creatures. ... Goethe had an aversion to dogs, and he wasn't mad. They know the secrets of the sea, they don't bark.
[By walking a lobster at the end of a blue silk ribbon in the gardens of the Palais-Royal, he mocked middle-class pretensions, but caused concern for his sanity.]
Quoted by his friend, Théophile Gautier, in Portraits et souvenirs littéraires (1875). In Théophile Gautier, My Fantoms, translated by Richard Holmes (1976), 150.
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With moth cytochrome C there are 30 differences and 74 identities. With bread yeast and humans, there are about 45 amino acids that are different and about 59 that are identical. Think how close together man and this other organism, bread yeast, are. What is the probability that in 59 positions the same choice out of 20 possibilities would have been made by accident? It is impossibly small. There is, there must be, a developmental explanation of this. The developmental explanation is that bread yeast and man have a common ancestor, perhaps two billion years ago. And so we see that not only are all men brothers, but men and yeast cells, too, are at least close cousins, to say nothing about men and gorillas or rhesus monkeys. It is the duty of scientists to dispel ignorance of such relationships.
'The Social Responsibilities of Scientists and Science', The Science Teacher (1933), 33, 15.
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[D]iscovery should come as an adventure rather than as the result of a logical process of thought. Sharp, prolonged thinking is necessary that we may keep on the chosen road but it does not itself necessarily lead to discovery. The investigator must be ready and on the spot when the light comes from whatever direction.
Letter to Dr. E. B. Krumhaar (11 Oct 1933), in Journal of Bacteriology (Jan 1934), 27, No. 1, 19.
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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