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Learning Quotes (130 quotes)

'Tis certain that a serious attention to the sciences and liberal arts softens and humanizes the temper, and cherishes those fine emotions in which true virtue and honor consist. It rarely, very rarely happens that a man of taste and learning is not, at least, an honest man, whatever frailties may attend him.
Essay XVIII, 'The Sceptic', Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects (1742, New ed. 1767), Vol. 1, 193.
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Ars longa, vita brevis.
Art is long, life is short.
Aphorisms, i. The original was written in Greek. This Latin translation, by Seneca (De Brevitate Vitae, 1.1), is in John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations (1905), 6, footnote 3. The sense is generally taken to be, 'Life is short, but to learn a profession (an art) takes a long time.'
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Nulla (enim) res tantum ad dicendum proficit, quantum scriptio
Nothing so much assists learning as writing down what we wish to remember.
In Jon R. Stone, The Routledge Dictionary of Latin Quotations (2005), 78.
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[Instead of collecting stamps, he collected dictionaries and encyclopaedias:] Because you can learn more from them.
'Dr Linus Pauling, Atomic Architect', Science Illustrated (1948), 3, 40.
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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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A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.
In Poor Richard's Almanack (1734).
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A lucky physician is better than a learned one.
In Dwight Edwards Marvin, The Antiquity of Proverbs (1922), 238.
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A man ceases to be a beginner in any given science and becomes a master in that science when he has learned that ... he is going to be a beginner all his life.
The New Leviathan: or Man, Society, Civilization and Barbarism (1942, 1999) Pt. 1, Ch. 1, Aph. 46, 3.
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A man should carry nature in his head.
'Concord Walks'. The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1904), Vol. 12, 176.
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A mere index hunter, who held the eel of science by the tail.
Index-hunter is a term used mockingly, meaning one who acquires superficial knowledge merely by consulting indexes. The '[holding] the eel of science by the tail' allusion was used in 1728 by Alexander Pope (q.v.).
Peregrine Pickle xlii (1779), II, 57. Reference from The Oxford English Dictionary.
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A scientist is in a sense a learned small boy. There is something of the scientist in every small boy. Others must outgrow it. Scientists can stay that way all their lives.
Nobel banquet speech (10 Dec 1967). In Ragnar Granit (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1967 (1968).
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A smattering of everything is worth little. It is a fallacy to suppose that an encyclopaedic knowledge is desirable. The mind is made strong, not through much learning, but by the thorough possession of something.
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 145.
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A star is drawing on some vast reservoir of energy by means unknown to us. This reservoir can scarcely be other than the subatomic energy which, it is known exists abundantly in all matter; we sometimes dream that man will one day learn how to release it and use it for his service. The store is well nigh inexhaustible, if only it could be tapped. There is sufficient in the Sun to maintain its output of heat for 15 billion years.
Address to the British Association in Cardiff, (24 Aug 1920), in Observatory (1920), 43 353. Reprinted in Foreward to Arthur S. Eddington, The Internal Constitution of the Stars (1926, 1988), x.
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After that cancellation [of the Superconducting Super Collider in Texas, after $2 billion had been spent on it], we physicists learned that we have to sing for our supper. ... The Cold War is over. You can't simply say “Russia!” to Congress, and they whip out their checkbook and say, “How much?” We have to tell the people why this atom-smasher is going to benefit their lives.
As quoted in Alan Boyle, 'Discovery of Doom? Collider Stirs Debate', article (8 Sep 2008) on a msnbc.com web page.
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Although [Charles Darwin] would patiently go on repeating experiments where there was any good to be gained, he could not endure having to repeat an experiment which ought, if complete care had been taken, to have told its story at first—and this gave him a continual anxiety that the experiment should not be wasted; he felt the experiment to be sacred, however slight a one it was. He wished to learn as much as possible from an experiment, so that he did not confine himself to observing the single point to which the experiment was directed, and his power of seeing a number of other things was wonderful. ... Any experiment done was to be of some use, and ... strongly he urged the necessity of keeping the notes of experiments which failed, and to this rule he always adhered.
In Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of his Published Letters (1908), 92.
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An educated person is one who has learned that information almost always turns out to be at best incomplete and very often false, misleading, fictitious, mendacious—just dead wrong.
'Sunday Observer: Terminal Education', New York Times Magazine (9 Nov 1980), 8.
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And I do not take my medicines from the apothecaries; their shops are but foul sculleries, from which comes nothing but foul broths. As for you, you defend your kingdom with belly-crawling and flattery. How long do you think this will last? ... let me tell you this: every little hair on my neck knows more than you and all your scribes, and my shoebuckles are more learned than your Galen and Avicenna, and my beard has more experience than all your high colleges.
'Credo', in J. Jacobi (ed.), Paracelsus: Selected Writings (1951), 80.
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Angling may be said to be so like the Mathematics that it can never be fully learnt; at least not so fully but that there will still be more new experiments left for the trial of other men that succeed us.
The Complete Angler (1915), 7.
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Another diversity of Methods is according to the subject or matter which is handled; for there is a great difference in delivery of the Mathematics, which are the most abstracted of knowledges, and Policy, which is the most immersed ... , yet we see how that opinion, besides the weakness of it, hath been of ill desert towards learning, as that which taketh the way to reduce learning to certain empty and barren generalities; being but the very husks and shells of sciences, all the kernel being forced out and expulsed with the torture and press of the method.
Advancement of Learning, Book 2. In James Spedding, The Works of Francis Bacon (1863), Vol. 6, 292-293 . Peter Pešić, explains that 'By Mathematics, he had in mind a sterile and rigid scheme of logical classifications, called dichotomies in his time,' inLabyrinth: A Search for the Hidden Meaning of Science (2001), 73.
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As evolutionary time is measured, we have only just turned up and have hardly had time to catch breath, still marveling at our thumbs, still learning to use the brand-new gift of language. Being so young, we can be excused all sorts of folly and can permit ourselves the hope that someday, as a species, we will begin to grow up.
In Lewis Thomas, 'Introduction', from Horace Freeland Judson, The Search for Solutions (1980, 1987), xvii.
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As for the excellent little wretches who grow up in what they are taught, with never a scruple or a query, ... they signify nothing in the intellectual life of the race.
'Poet at the Breakfast-Table', The Atlantic Monthly (Oct 1872), 429.
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But Chinese civilization has the overpowering beauty of the wholly other, and only the wholly other can inspire the deepest love and the profoundest desire to learn.
The Grand Titration (1969), 176.
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Computers and rocket ships are examples of invention, not of understanding. ... All that is needed to build machines is the knowledge that when one thing happens, another thing happens as a result. It's an accumulation of simple patterns. A dog can learn patterns. There is no “why&rdqo; in those examples. We don't understand why electricity travels. We don't know why light travels at a constant speed forever. All we can do is observe and record patterns.
In God's Debris: A Thought Experiment (2004), 22.
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Copernicus, the most learned man whom we are able to name other than Atlas and Ptolemy, even though he taught in a most learned manner the demonstrations and causes of motion based on observation, nevertheless fled from the job of constructing tables, so that if anyone computes from his tables, the computation is not even in agreement with his observations on which the foundation of the work rests. Therefore first I have compared the observations of Copernicus with those of Ptolemy and others as to which are the most accurate, but besides the bare observations, I have taken from Copernicus nothing other than traces of demonstrations. As for the tables of mean motion, and of prosthaphaereses and all the rest, I have constructed these anew, following absolutely no other reasoning than that which I have judged to be of maximum harmony.
Dedication to the Duke of Prussia, Prutenicae Tabulae (1551), 1585 edition, as quoted in Owen Gingerich, The Eye of Heaven: Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler (1993), 227.
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During the war years I worked on the development of radar and other radio systems for the R.A.F. and, though gaining much in engineering experience and in understanding people, rapidly forgot most of the physics I had learned.
From Autobiography in Wilhelm Odelberg (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1974/Nobel Lectures (1975)
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Earthquakes traveling through the interior of the globe are like so many messengers sent out to explore a new land. The messages are constantly coming and seismologists are fast learning to read them.
In Our Mobile Earth (1926), 5.
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Education is not the piling on of learning, information, data, facts, skills, or abilities—that's training or instruction—but is rather making visible what is hidden as a seed.
The Education of the Heart (1996), Introduction, 3.
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Every time we get slapped down, we can say, Thank you Mother Nature, because it means we're about to learn something important.
Quoted at end of article of "Unraveling Universe", Time (6 Mar 1995), 145, 84.
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Failure is so much more interesting because you learn from it. That's what we should be teaching children at school, that being successful the first time, there's nothing in it. There's no interest, you learn nothing actually.
Interview with Carole Cadwalladr, The Observer (9 May 2014).
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From the freedom to explore comes the joy of learning. From knowledge acquired by personal initiative arises the desire for more knowledge. And from mastery of the novel and beautiful world awaiting every child comes self-confidence.
In The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (2010), 147.
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Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select—doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. (1930)
Behaviorism (1998), 82.
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Gradually, at various points in our childhoods, we discover different forms of conviction. There’s the rock-hard certainty of personal experience (“I put my finger in the fire and it hurt,”), which is probably the earliest kind we learn. Then there’s the logically convincing, which we probably come to first through maths, in the context of Pythagoras’s theorem or something similar, and which, if we first encounter it at exactly the right moment, bursts on our minds like sunrise with the whole universe playing a great chord of C Major.
In short essay, 'Dawkins, Fairy Tales, and Evidence', 2.
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He who has imagination without learning has wings and no feet.
In Tryon Edwards, A Dictionary of Thoughts (1908), 245.
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His [Thomas Edison] method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90 per cent of the labor. But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor's instinct and practical American sense. In view of this, the truly prodigious amount of his actual accomplishments is little short of a miracle.
As quoted in 'Tesla Says Edison Was an Empiricist', The New York Times (19 Oct 1931), 25. In 1884, Tesla had moved to America to assist Edison in the designing of motors and generators.
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How fortunate for civilization, that Beethoven, Michelangelo, Galileo and Faraday were not required by law to attend schools where their total personalities would have been operated upon to make them learn acceptable ways of participating as members of “the group.”
In speech, 'Education for Creativity in the Sciences', Conference at New York University, Washington Square. As quoted by Gene Currivan in 'I.Q. Tests Called Harmful to Pupil', New York Times (16 Jun 1963), 66.
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I am the most travelled of all my contemporaries; I have extended my field of enquiry wider than anybody else, I have seen more countries and climes, and have heard more speeches of learned men. No one has surpassed me in the composition of lines, according to demonstration, not even the Egyptian knotters of ropes, or geometers.
In Alan L. Mackay, A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1992, 1994), 71.
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I can assure you, reader, that in a very few hours, even during the first day, you will learn more natural philosophy about things contained in this book, than you could learn in fifty years by reading the theories and opinions of the ancient philosophers. Enemies of science will scoff at the astrologers: saying, where is the ladder on which they have climbed to heaven, to know the foundation of the stars? But in this respect I am exempt from such scoffing; for in proving my written reason, I satisfy sight, hearing, and touch: for this reason, defamers will have no power over me: as you will see when you come to see me in my little Academy.
The Admirable Discourses (1580), trans. Aurele La Rocque (1957), 27.
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I cannot think of a single field in biology or medicine in which we can claim genuine understanding, and it seems to me the more we learn about living creatures, especially ourselves, the stranger life becomes.
In 'On Science and Certainty', Discover Magazine (Oct 1980).
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I have learned to have more faith in the scientist than he does in himself.
As quoted in Obituary, Newsweek (27 Dec 1971).
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I have spent some months in England, have seen an awful lot and learned little. England is not a land of science, there is only a widely practised dilettantism, the chemists are ashamed to call themselves chemists because the pharmacists, who are despised, have assumed this name.
Liebig to Berzelius, 26 Nov 1837. Quoted in J. Carriere (ed.), Berzelius und Liebig.; ihre Briefe (1898), 134. Trans. W. H. Brock.
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I know a good many men of great learning—that is, men born with an extraordinary eagerness and capacity to acquire knowledge. One and all, they tell me that they can't recall learning anything of any value in school. All that schoolmasters managed to accomplish with them was to test and determine the amount of knowledge that they had already acquired independently—and not infrequently the determination was made clumsily and inaccurately.
In Prejudices: third series (1922), 261.
For a longer excerpt, see H. L. Mencken's Recollections of School Algebra.
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I must confess the language of symbols is to me
A Babylonish dialect
Which learned chemists much affect;
It is a party-coloured dress
Of patch'd and piebald languages:
'T is English cut on Greek and Latin,
Like fustian heretofore on satin.
'Additional Observations on the Use of Chemical Symbols', Philosophical Magazine, Third series (1834), 4, 251. Cited in Timothy L. Alborn, 'Negotiating Notation: Chemical Symbols and British Society, 1831-1835', Annals of Science (1989), 46, 437.
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I took biology in high school and didn't like it at all. It was focused on memorization. ... I didn't appreciate that biology also had principles and logic ... [rather than dealing with a] messy thing called life. It just wasn't organized, and I wanted to stick with the nice pristine sciences of chemistry and physics, where everything made sense. I wish I had learned sooner that biology could be fun as well.
Interview (23 May 1998), 'Creating the Code to Life', Academy of Achievement web site.
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I was unable to devote myself to the learning of this al-jabr [algebra] and the continued concentration upon it, because of obstacles in the vagaries of Time which hindered me; for we have been deprived of all the people of knowledge save for a group, small in number, with many troubles, whose concern in life is to snatch the opportunity, when Time is asleep, to devote themselves meanwhile to the investigation and perfection of a science; for the majority of people who imitate philosophers confuse the true with the false, and they do nothing but deceive and pretend knowledge, and they do not use what they know of the sciences except for base and material purposes; and if they see a certain person seeking for the right and preferring the truth, doing his best to refute the false and untrue and leaving aside hypocrisy and deceit, they make a fool of him and mock him.
A. P. Youschkevitch and B. A. Rosenfeld, 'Al-Khayyami', in C. C. Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1973), Vol. 7, 324.
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I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Walden (1854), 143.
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I will venture to say there is more learning and science within the circumference of ten miles from where we now sit [in London], than in all the rest of the kingdom.
In James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1820), Vol. 1, 267.
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I'm gradually managing to cram my mind more and more full of things. I've got this beautiful mind and it's going to die, and it'll all be gone. And then I say, not in my case. Every idea I've ever had I've written down, and it's all there on paper. And I won't be gone; it'll be there.
'Isaac Asimov Speaks' with Bill Moyers in The Humanist (Jan/Feb 1989), 49. Reprinted in Carl Howard Freedman (ed.), Conversations with Isaac Asimov (2005), 139.
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If any layman were to ask a number of archaeologists to give, on the spur of the moment, a definition of archaeology, I suspect that such a person might find the answers rather confusing. He would, perhaps, sympathize with Socrates who, when he hoped to learn from the poets and artisans something about the arts they practised, was forced to go away with the conviction that, though they might themselves be able to accomplish something, they certainly could give no clear account to others of what they were trying to do.
Opening statement in lecture at Columbia University (8 Jan 1908), 'Archaeology'. Published by the Columbia University Press (1908).
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If we put together all that we have learned from anthropology and ethnography about primitive men and primitive society, we perceive that the first task of life is to live. Men begin with acts, not with thoughts.
Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores and Morals (1907), 2.
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If we use resources productively and take to heart the lessons learned from coping with the energy crisis, we face a future confronted only, as Pogo, once said, by insurmountable opportunities. The many crises facing us should be seen, then, not as threats, but as chances to remake the future so it serves all beings.
Utne Reader (Nov-Dec 1989).
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If we want to solve a problem that we have never solved before, we must leave the door to the unknown ajar.
In 'The Value of Science,' What Do You Care What Other People Think? (1988, 2001), 247. Collected in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (2000), 149.
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If you confine yourself to this Skinnerian technique, you study nothing but the learning apparatus and you leave out everything that is different in octopi, crustaceans, insects and vertebrates. In other words, you leave out everything that makes a pigeon a pigeon, a rat a rat, a man a man, and, above all, a healthy man healthy and a sick man sick.
'Some Psychological Concepts and Issues. A Discussion between Konrad Lorenz and Richard I Evans'. In Richard I. Evans, Konrad Lorenz: The Man and his Ideas (1975), 60.
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In physics we deal with states of affairs much simpler than those of psychology and yet we again and again learn that our task is not to investigate the essence of things—we do not at all know what this would mean&mash;but to develop those concepts that allow us to speak with each other about the events of nature in a fruitful manner.
Letter to H.P.E. Hansen (20 Jul 1935), Niels Bohr Archive. In Jan Faye, Henry J. Folse, Niels Bohr and Contemporary Philosophy (1994), 83.
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In those parts of the world where learning and science has prevailed, miracles have ceased; but in those parts of it as are barbarous and ignorant, miracles are still in vogue.
In Reason, the Only Oracle of Man (1836), 46.
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Index-learning turns no student pale,
Yet holds the eel of Science by the tail.
Index-learning is a term used to mock pretenders who acquire superficial knowledge merely by consulting indexes.
The Dunciad (1728), Book 1, 279. Reference from The Oxford English Dictionary.
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It is always the nearest, plainest and simplest principles that learned men comprehend last.
In Elbert Hubbard (ed. and publ.), The Philistine (Mar 1908), 26, No. 4, cover.
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It is both a sad and a happy fact of engineering history that disasters have been powerful instruments of change. Designers learn from failure. Industrial society did not invent grand works of engineering, and it was not the first to know design failure. What it did do was develop powerful techniques for learning from the experience of past disasters. It is extremely rare today for an apartment house in North America, Europe, or Japan to fall down. Ancient Rome had large apartment buildings too, but while its public baths, bridges and aqueducts have lasted for two thousand years, its big residential blocks collapsed with appalling regularity. Not one is left in modern Rome, even as ruin.
In Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences (1997), 23.
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It is in our genes to understand the universe if we can, to keep trying even if we cannot, and to be enchanted by the act of learning all the way.
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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.
'Concord Walks'. The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1904), Vol. 12, 176.
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It is my intent to beget a good understanding between the chymists and the mechanical philosophers who have hitherto been too little acquainted with one another's learning.
The Sceptical Chymist (1661).
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It is not knowing, but the love of learning, that characterizes the scientific man.
From 'Lessons from the History of Science: The Scientific Attitude' (c.1896), in Collected Papers (1931), Vol. 1, 20.
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It is not knowledge, but the act of learning, not possession but the act of getting there, which grants the greatest enjoyment. When I have clarified and exhausted a subject, then I turn away from it, in order to go into darkness again; the never-satisfied man is so strange if he has completed a structure, then it is not in order to dwell in it peacefully,but in order to begin another. I imagine the world conqueror must feel thus, who, after one kingdom is scarcely conquered, stretches out his arms for others.
Letter to Farkas Wolfgang Bolyai (2 Sep 1808). Quoted in G. Waldo Dunnington, Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science (2004), 416.
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It may be said “In research, if you know what you are doing, then you shouldn't be doing it.” In a sense, if the answer turns out to be exactly what you expected, then you have learned nothing new, although you may have had your confidence increased somewhat.
In Numerical Methods for Scientists and Engineers (1973), 704.
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It’s becoming clear that in a sense the cosmos provides the only laboratory where sufficiently extreme conditions are ever achieved to test new ideas on particle physics. The energies in the Big Bang were far higher than we can ever achieve on Earth. So by looking at evidence for the Big Bang, and by studying things like neutron stars, we are in effect learning something about fundamental physics.
From editted transcript of BBC Radio 3 interview, collected in Lewis Wolpert and Alison Richards, A Passion For Science (1988), 33.
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Learning is ever in the freshness of its youth, even for the old.
Aeschylus
Agamemnon, 584. In John Bartlett, Familar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs (1891), 695.
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Learning is like mercury, one of the most powerful and excellent things in the world in skillful hands; in unskillful, the most mischievous.
'Thoughts On Various Subjects', The Works of Alexander Pope (1806), Vol. 6, 406.
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Learning is the dictionary, but sense the grammar of science.
The Works of Laurence Sterne (1814), Vol. 6, 347.
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Learning teacheth more in one year than experience in twenty.
The Scholemaster (1570). In Robert Chambers (ed.), Cyclopaedia of English Literature: A Selection of the Choicest Productions (1858), 78.
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Learning will be cast into the mire, and trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude.
Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790 ), 117.

LEARNING, n. The kind of ignorance distinguishing the studious.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  188.
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Like all things of the mind, science is a brittle thing: it becomes absurd when you look at it too closely. It is designed for few at a time, not as a mass profession. But now we have megascience: an immense apparatus discharging in a minute more bursts of knowledge than humanity is able to assimilate in a lifetime. Each of us has two eyes, two ears, and, I hope, one brain. We cannot even listen to two symphonies at the same time. How do we get out of the horrible cacophony that assails our minds day and night? We have to learn, as others did, that if science is a machine to make more science, a machine to grind out so-called facts of nature, not all facts are equally worth knowing. Students, in other words, will have to learn to forget most of what they have learned. This process of forgetting must begin after each exam, but never before. The Ph.D. is essentially a license to start unlearning.
Voices In the Labyrinth: Nature, Man, and Science (1979), 2.
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Man does not limit himself to seeing; he thinks and insists on learning the meaning of phenomena whose existence has been revealed to him by observation. So he reasons, compares facts, puts questions to them, and by the answers which he extracts, tests one by another. This sort of control, by means of reasoning and facts, is what constitutes experiment, properly speaking; and it is the only process that we have for teaching ourselves about the nature of things outside us.
In Claude Bernard and Henry Copley Greene (trans.), An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1927, 1957), 5.
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More about the selection theory: Jerne meant that the Socratic idea of learning was a fitting analogy for 'the logical basis of the selective theories of antibody formation': Can the truth (the capability to synthesize an antibody) be learned? If so, it must be assumed not to pre-exist; to be learned, it must be acquired. We are thus confronted with the difficulty to which Socrates calls attention in Meno [ ... ] namely, that it makes as little sense to search for what one does not know as to search for what one knows; what one knows, one cannot search for, since one knows it already, and what one does not know, one cannot search for, since one does not even know what to search for. Socrates resolves this difficulty by postulating that learning is nothing but recollection. The truth (the capability to synthesize an antibody) cannot be brought in, but was already inherent.
'The Natural Selection Theory', in John Cairns, Gunther S. Stent, and James D. Watson (eds.) Phage and the Origins of Molecular Biology (1966), 301.
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My belief (is) that one should take a minimum of care and preparation over first experiments. If they are unsuccessful one is not then discouraged since many possible reasons for failure can be thought of, and improvements can be made. Much can often be learned by the repetition under different conditions, even if the desired result is not obtained. If every conceivable precaution is taken at first, one is often too discouraged to proceed at all.
Nobel Lectures in Chemistry (1999), Vol. 3, 364.
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Never fear big long words.
Big long words name little things.
All big things have little names.
Such as life and death, peace and war.
Or dawn, day, night, hope, love, home.
Learn to use little words in a big way.
It is hard to do,
But they say what you mean.
When you don't know what you mean, use big words.
That often fools little people.
Quoted in Saturday Review (1962), 45, No. 2. It was written (1936) for his son, as advice for young copy writers. - 1995
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No science is speedily learned by the noblest genius without tuition.
Isaac Watts. Quoted in Adam Wooléver (ed.), Encyclopædia of Quotations: A Treasury of Wisdom, Wit and Humor, Odd Comparisons and Proverbs (6th ed, 1876), 128.
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Nothing has more retarded the advancement of learning than the disposition of vulgar minds to ridicule and vilify what they cannot comprehend.
The Rambler, Number 117, 30 Apr 1751. In W. J. Bate and Albrecht B. Stranss (eds.), The Rambler (1969), Vol. 2, 258-9.
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Once you have learned how to ask relevant and appropriate questions, you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know.
[Co-author with Charles Weingartner.]
Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1971), 23.
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One is constantly reminded of the infinite lavishness and fertility of Nature—inexhaustible abundance amid what seems enormous waste. And yet when we look into any of her operations that lie within reach of our minds, we learn that no particle of her material is wasted or worn out. It is eternally flowing from use to use, beauty to yet higher beauty; and we soon cease to lament waste and death, and rather rejoice and exult in the imperishable, unspendable wealth of the universe.
John Muir
In My First Summer in the Sierra (1911), 325. Based on Muir's original journals and sketches of his 1869 stay in the Sierra.
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Only to often on meeting scientific men, even those of genuine distiction, one finds that they are dull fellows and very stupid. They know one thing to excess; they know nothing else. Pursuing facts too doggedly and unimaginatively, they miss all the charming things that are not facts. ... Too much learning, like too little learning, is an unpleasant and dangerous thing.
A Second Mencken Chrestomathy: A New Selection from the Writings of America's Legendary Editor, Critic, and Wit (2006), 157.
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Our atom of carbon enters the leaf, colliding with other innumerable (but here useless) molecules of nitrogen and oxygen. It adheres to a large and complicated molecule that activates it, and simultaneously receives the decisive message from the sky, in the flashing form of a packet of solar light; in an instant, like an insect caught by a spider, it is separated from its oxygen, combined with hydrogen and (one thinks) phosphous, and finally inserted in a chain, whether long or short does not matter, but it is the chain of life. All this happens swiftly, in silence, at the temperature and pressure of the atmosphere, and gratis: dear colleagues, when we learn to do likewise we will be sicut Deus [like God], and we will have also solved the problem of hunger in the world.
Levi Primo and Raymond Rosenthal (trans.), The Periodic Table (1975, 1984), 227-228. In this final section of his book, Levi imagines the life of a carbon atom. He calls this his first “literary dream”. It came to him at Auschwitz.
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Our passion for learning ... is our tool for survival.
Cosmos (1980, 1985), 230-231.

Physick, says Sydenham, is not to bee learned by going to Universities, but hee is for taking apprentices; and says one had as good send a man to Oxford to learn shoemaking as practising physick.
Diary of the Rev. John Ward, M. A. (1648-1769), ed. Charles Severn (1839), 242.
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Plasticity is a double-edged sword; the more flexible an organism is the greater the variety of maladaptive, as well as adaptive, behaviors it can develop; the more teachable it is the more fully it can profit from the experiences of its ancestors and associates and the more it risks being exploited by its ancestors and associates.
In Gary William Flake, The Computational Beauty of Nature (2000), 361.
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Probably the most important skill that children learn is how to learn. … Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve. This is a mistake.
In 'Observing the Brain Through a Cat's Eyes', Saturday Review World (1974), 2, 132.
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Research has deserted the individual and entered the group. The individual worker find the problem too large, not too difficult. He must learn to work with others.
Letter to Dr. E. B. Krumhaar (11 Oct 1933), in Journal of Bacteriology (Jan 1934), 27, No. 1, 20.
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Science ... must be absorbed in order to inculcate that wonderful humility before the facts of nature that comes from close attention to a textbook, and that unwillingness to learn from Authority that comes from making almost verbatim lecture notes and handing them back to the professor.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 141.
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Science and engineering students presumably are left to learn about their literature in the same way they learn about sex.
'Learning for Life', Journal of Chemical Information and Computer Sciences (1981), 21 (4), 2A.
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Science has a simple faith, which transcends utility. Nearly all men of science, all men of learning for that matter, and men of simple ways too, have it in some form and in some degree. It is the faith that it is the privilege of man to learn to understand, and that this is his mission. If we abandon that mission under stress we shall abandon it forever, for stress will not cease. Knowledge for the sake of understanding, not merely to prevail, that is the essence of our being. None can define its limits, or set its ultimate boundaries.
Science is Not Enough (1967), 191.
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Science is founded on uncertainty. Each time we learn something new and surprising, the astonishment comes with the realization that we were wrong before.
In 'On Science and Certainty', Discover Magazine (Oct 1980), 58.
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Science only means knowledge; and for [Greek] ancients it did only mean knowledge. Thus the favorite science of the Greeks was Astronomy, because it was as abstract as Algebra. ... We may say that the great Greek ideal was to have no use for useful things. The Slave was he who learned useful things; the Freeman was he who learned useless things. This still remains the ideal of many noble men of science, in the sense they do desire truth as the great Greeks desired it; and their attitude is an external protest against vulgarity of utilitarianism.
'About Beliefs', in As I was Saying: A Book of Essays (1936), 65-66. Collected in G. K. Chesterton and Dale Ahlquist (ed.), In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton (2011), 318.
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Scientific method is often defined as if it were a set procedure, to be learned, like a recipe, as if anyone could like a recipe, as if anyone could become a scientist simply by learning the method. This is as absurd ... [so I shall not] discuss scientific method, but rather the methods of scientists. We proceed by common sense and ingenuity. There are no rules, only the principles of integrity and objectivity, with a complete rejection of all authority except that of fact.
In Science in the Making (1957), 8.
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Suppose it were perfectly certain that the life and fortune of every one of us would, one day or other, depend upon his winning or losing a game of chess. Don't you think that we should all consider it to be a primary duty to learn at least the names and the moves of the pieces; to have a notion of a gambit, and a keen eye for all the means of giving and getting out of check? Do you not think that we should look with a disapprobation amounting to scorn upon the father who allowed his son, or the state which allowed its members, to grow up without knowing a pawn from a knight?
Yet, it is a very plain and elementary truth that the life, the fortune, and the happiness of every one of us, and, more or less, of those who are connected with us, do depend upon our knowing something of the rules of a game infinitely more difficult and complicated than chess. It is a game which has been played for untold ages, every man and woman of us being one of the two players in a game of his or her own. The chess-board is the world, the pieces are the phenomena of the universe, the rules of the game are what we call the laws of nature. The player on the other side is hidden from us. We know that his play is always fair, just, and patient. But also we know, to our cost, that he never overlooks a mistake, or makes the smallest allowance for ignorance. To the man who plays well the highest stakes are paid with that sort of overflowing generosity with which the strong shows delight in strength. And one who plays ill is checkmated—without haste, but without remorse.
Address to the South London Working Men's College. 'A Liberal Education; and Where to Find It', in David Masson, (ed.), Macmillan's Magazine (Mar 1868), 17, 369.
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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 ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.
In 'Planning as Learning', Harvard Business Review (Mar-Apr 1988), 66, No. 2, 71.
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The advances of biology during the past 20 years have been breathtaking, particularly in cracking the mystery of heredity. Nevertheless, the greatest and most difficult problems still lie ahead. The discoveries of the 1970‘s about the chemical roots of memory in nerve cells or the basis of learning, about the complex behavior of man and animals, the nature of growth, development, disease and aging will be at least as fundamental and spectacular as those of the recent past.
As quoted in 'H. Bentley Glass', New York Times (12 Jan 1970), 96.
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The Archetypal idea was manifested in the flesh, under divers such modifications, upon this planet, long prior to the existence of those animal species that actually exemplify it. To what natural laws or secondary causes the orderly succession and progression of such organic phaenomena may have been committed we as yet are ignorant. But if, without derogation of the Divine power, we may conceive the existence of such ministers, and personify them by the term 'Nature,' we learn from the past history of our globe that she has advanced with slow and stately steps, guided by the archetypal light, amidst the wreck of worlds, from the first embodiment of the Vertebrate idea under its old Ichthyic vestment, until it became arrayed in the glorious garb of the Human form.
On the Nature of Limbs (1849), 86.
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The best part of working at a university is the students. They come in fresh, enthusiastic, open to ideas, unscarred by the battles of life. They don't realize it, but they're the recipients of the best our society can offer. If a mind is ever free to be creative, that's the time. They come in believing textbooks are authoritative but eventually they figure out that textbooks and professors don't know everything, and then they start to think on their own. Then, I begin learning from them.
As quoted in autobiography of Stephen Chu in Gösta Ekspong (ed.), Nobel Lectures: Physics 1996-2000 (2002), 120.
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The best way to learn to swim is to dive.
Advice to his medical students
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The chief art of learning, as Locke has observed, is to attempt but little at a time. The widest excursions of the mind are made by short flights frequently repeated; the most lofty fabrics of science are formed by the continued accumulation of single propositions.
'The Need For General Knowledge,' Rambler No. 137 (9 Jul 1751). In Samuel Johnson, Donald Greene (ed.), Samuel Johnson (1984), 223.
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The child which overbalances itself in learning to walk is experimenting on the law of gravity.
In ‘Experimental Legislation’, Popular Science (Apr 1880), 16, 754.
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The Commonwealth of Learning is not at this time without Master-Builders, whose mighty Designs, in advancing the Sciences, will leave lasting Monuments to the Admiration of Posterity; But every one must not hope to be a Boyle, or a Sydenham; and in an Age that produces such Masters, as the Great-Huygenius, and the incomparable Mr. Newton, with some other of that Strain; 'tis Ambition enough to be employed as an Under-Labourer in clearing Ground a little, and removing some of the Rubbish, that lies in the way to Knowledge.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), The Epistle to the Reader, 9-10.
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The history of science, like the history of all human ideas, is a history of irresponsible dreams, of obstinacy, and of error. But science is one of the very few human activities—perhaps the only one—in which errors are systematically criticized and fairly often, in time, corrected. This is why we can say that, in science, we often learn from our mistakes, and why we can speak clearly and sensibly about making progress there. In most other fields of human endeavour there is change, but rarely progress ... And in most fields we do not even know how to evaluate change.
From Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1963), 216. Reproduced in Karl Popper, Truth, Rationality and the Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1979), 9.
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The true order of learning should be first, what is necessary; second, what is useful, and third, what is ornamental. To reverse this arrangement is like beginning to build at the top of the edifice.
Tryon Edwards and William Buell Sprague, The World's Laconics: or, The Best Thoughts of the Best Authors (1853), 7.?
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The word “mathematics” is a Greek word and, by origin, it means “something that has been learned or understood,” or perhaps “acquired knowledge,” or perhaps even, somewhat against grammar, “acquirable knowledge,” that is, “learnable knowledge,” that is, “knowledge acquirable by learning.”
'Why Mathematics Grows', Journal of the History of Ideas (Jan-Mar 1965), 26, No. 1, 4. In Salomon Bochner and Robert Clifford Gunning (ed.) Collected Papers of Salomon Bochner (1992), Vol. 4, 192.
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There are no mistakes. The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they're necessary to reach the places we've chosen to go.
The Bridge across Forever (1984). In Gary Westfahl, Science Fiction Quotations: From the Inner Mind to the Outer Limits (2006), 2.
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There is a story that once, not long after he came to Berlin, Planck forgot which room had been assigned to him for a lecture and stopped at the entrance office of the university to find out. Please tell me, he asked the elderly man in charge, 'In which room does Professor Planck lecture today?' The old man patted him on the shoulder 'Don't go there, young fellow,' he said 'You are much too young to understand the lectures of our learned Professor Planck'.
Anonymous
In Barbara Lovett Cline, Men Who Made a New Physics: Physicists and the Quantum Theory (1987), 46.
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They hold that the function of universities is to make learning repellent and thus to prevent its becoming dangerously common. And they discharge this beneficent function all the more efficiently because they do it unconsciously and automatically. The professors think they are advancing healthy intellectual assimilation and digestion when they are in reality little better than cancer on the stomach.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 32.
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This is all very fine, but it won't do—Anatomy—botany—Nonsense! Sir, I know an old woman in Covent Garden, who understands botany better, and as for anatomy, my butcher can dissect a joint full as well; no, young man, all that is stuff; you must go to the bedside, it is there alone you can learn disease!
Comment to Hans Sloane on Robert Boyle's letter of introduction describing Sloane as a 'ripe scholar, a good botanist, a skilful anatomist'.
Quoted in John D. Comrie, 'Life of Thomas Sydenham, M. D.', in Comrie (ed.), Selected Works of Thomas Sydenham (1922), 2.
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This spontaneous emergence of order at critical points of instability, which is often referred to simply as “emergence,” is one of the hallmarks of life. It has been recognized as the dynamic origin of development, learning, and evolution. In other words, creativity—the generation of new forms—is a key property of all living systems.
'Complexity and Life'. In Fritjof Capra, Alicia Juarrero, Pedro Sotolongo (eds.) Reframing Complexity: Perspectives From the North and South (2007), 16.
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Those who have dissected or inspected many [bodies] have at least learnt to doubt; while others who are ignorant of anatomy and do not take the trouble to attend it are in no doubt at all.
Letter xvi, Art. 25, as translated by Benjamin Alexander. Cited in Edward W. Adams, 'Founders of Modern Medicine II: Giovanni Battista Morgagni', Medical Library and Historical Journal (1903), Vol. 1, 276.
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Through it [Science] we believe that man will be saved from misery and degradation, not merely acquiring new material powers, but learning to use and to guide his life with understanding. Through Science he will be freed from the fetters of superstition; through faith in Science he will acquire a new and enduring delight in the exercise of his capacities; he will gain a zest and interest in life such as the present phase of culture fails to supply.
'Biology and the State', The Advancement of Science: Occasional Essays & Addresses (1890), 108-9.
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To inquisitive minds like yours and mine the reflection that the quantity of human knowledge bears no proportion to the quantity of human ignorance must be in one view rather pleasing, viz., that though we are to live forever we may be continually amused and delighted with learning something new.
In letter to Dr. Ingenhouz. Quoted in Theodore Diller, Franklin's Contribution to Medicine (1912), 65. The source gives no specific cite for the letter, and Webmaster has found the quote in no other book checked, so authenticity is in question.
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To teach is to learn twice.
Pensées and Letters of Joseph Joubert (1928), 122.
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Trace Science, then, with Modesty thy guide,
First strip off all her equipage of Pride,
Deduct what is but Vanity or Dress,
Or Learning's Luxury or idleness,
Or tricks, to show the stretch of the human brain
Mere curious pleasure or ingenious pain.
'Essay On Man', The Works of Alexander Pope (1751), Vol. 3, 31-32.
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Train yourselves. Don't wait to be fed knowledge out of a book. Get out and seek it. Make explorations. Do your own research work. Train your hands and your mind. Become curious. Invent your own problems and solve them. You can see things going on all about you. Inquire into them. Seek out answers to your own questions. There are many phenomena going on in nature the explanation of which cannot be found in books. Find out why these phenomena take place. Information a boy gets by himself is enormously more valuable than that which is taught to him in school.
In 'Dr. Irving Langmuir', Boys' Life (Jul 1941), 12.
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We have dominated and overruled nature, and from now on the earth is ours, a kitchen garden until we learn to make our own chlorophyll and float it out in the sun inside plastic mebranes. We will build Scarsdale on Mount Everest.
In The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974, 1979), 108.
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We know by experience itself, that … we find out but a short way, by long wandering.
The Scholemaster (1570), Book 1.
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We speak erroneously of “artificial” materials, “synthetics”, and so forth. The basis for this erroneous terminology is the notion that Nature has made certain things which we call natural, and everything else is “man-made”, ergo artificial. But what one learns in chemistry is that Nature wrote all the rules of structuring; man does not invent chemical structuring rules; he only discovers the rules. All the chemist can do is find out what Nature permits, and any substances that are thus developed or discovered are inherently natural. It is very important to remember that.
From 'The Comprehensive Man', Ideas and Integrities: A Spontaneous Autobiographical Disclosure (1963), 75-76.
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We thus begin to see that the institutionalized practice of citations and references in the sphere of learning is not a trivial matter. While many a general reader–that is, the lay reader located outside the domain of science and scholarship–may regard the lowly footnote or the remote endnote or the bibliographic parenthesis as a dispensable nuisance, it can be argued that these are in truth central to the incentive system and an underlying sense of distributive justice that do much to energize the advancement of knowledge.
'The Matthew Effect in Science, II: Cumulative Advantage and the Symbolism of Intellectual Property', Isis (1988), 79, 621.
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What is best in mathematics deserves not merely to be learnt as a task, but to assimilated as a part of daily thought, and brought again and again before the mind with ever-renewed encouragement.
Essay, 'The Study of Mathematics' (1902), collected in Philosophical Essays (1910), 73-74. Also collected in Mysticism and Logic: And Other Essays (1919), 60.
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What you learn from others you can use to follow.
What you learn for yourself you can use to lead.
In The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn (1975, 2005), 160.
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Whatever the skill of any country may be in the sciences, it is from its excellence in polite learning alone that it must expect a character from posterity.
Essays, on Miscellaneous Subjects (1818), 198.
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Whereas there is nothing more necessary for promoting the improvement of Philosophical Matters, than the communicating to such, as apply their Studies and Endeavours that way, such things as are discovered or put in practice by others; it is therefore thought fit to employ the Press, as the most proper way to gratifie those, whose engagement in such Studies, and delight in the advancement of Learning and profitable Discoveries, doth entitle them to the knowledge of what this Kingdom, or other parts of the World, do, from time to time, afford as well of the progress of the Studies, Labours, and attempts of the Curious and learned in things of this kind, as of their compleat Discoveries and performances: To the end, that such Productions being clearly and truly communicated, desires after solid and usefull knowledge may be further entertained, ingenious Endeavours and Undertakings cherished, and those, addicted to and conversant in such matters, may be invited and encouraged to search, try, and find out new things, impart their knowledge to one another, and contribute what they can to the Grand design of improving Natural knowledge, and perfecting all Philosophical Arts, and Sciences. All for the Glory of God, the Honour and Advantage of these Kingdoms, and the Universal Good of Mankind.
'Introduction', Philosophical Transactions (1665), 1, 1-2.
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You all have learned reliance
On the sacred teachings of Science,
So I hope, through life, you will never decline
In spite of philistine Defiance
To do what all good scientists do.
Experiment.
Make it your motto day and night.
Experiment.
And it will lead you to the light.
From 'Experiment', a song in the musical Nymph Errant (1933).
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You don't understand anything until you learn it more than one way.
In Rebecca Herold, Managing an Information Security and Privacy Awareness and Training Program (2005), 101.
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Young children were sooner allured by love, than driven by beating, to attain good learning.
The Scholemaster (1570), Book 1, Preface.
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[At high school in Cape Town] my interests outside my academic work were debating, tennis, and to a lesser extent, acting. I became intensely interested in astronomy and devoured the popular works of astronomers such as Sir Arthur Eddington and Sir James Jeans, from which I learnt that a knowledge of mathematics and physics was essential to the pursuit of astronomy. This increased my fondness for those subjects.
'Autobiography of Allan M. Cormack,' Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures 1979, editted by Wilhelm Odelberg.
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[In my home workshop,] generally I’m mending things, which is interesting because you learn a lot about why they broke.
Interview by Melanie D.G. Kaplan, 'James Dyson: Why we need to re-focus on the old economy' posted on smartplanet.com (3 Nov 2010).
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[Learning is] the actual process of broadening yourself, of knowing there's a little extra facet of the universe you know about and can think about and can understand. It seems to me that when it's time to die, and that will come to all of us, there'll be a certain pleasure in thinking that you had utilized your life well, that you had learned as much as you could, gathered in as much as possible of the universe, and enjoyed it. I mean, there's only this universe and only this one lifetime to try to grasp it. And, while it is inconceivable that anyone can grasp more than a tiny portion of it, at least do that much. What a tragedy to just pass through and get nothing out of it.
'Isaac Asimov Speaks' with Bill Moyers in The Humanist (Jan/Feb 1989), 49. Reprinted in Carl Howard Freedman (ed.), Conversations with Isaac Asimov (2005), 139.
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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