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Letter Quotes (16 quotes)

About eight days ago I discovered that sulfur in burning, far from losing weight, on the contrary, gains it; it is the same with phosphorus; this increase of weight arises from a prodigious quantity of air that is fixed during combustion and combines with the vapors. This discovery, which I have established by experiments, that I regard as decisive, has led me to think that what is observed in the combustion of sulfur and phosphorus may well take place in the case of all substances that gain in weight by combustion and calcination; and I am persuaded that the increase in weight of metallic calxes is due to the same cause... This discovery seems to me one of the most interesting that has been made since Stahl and since it is difficult not to disclose something inadvertently in conversation with friends that could lead to the truth I have thought it necessary to make the present deposit to the Secretary of the Academy to await the time I make my experiments public.
Sealed note deposited with the Secretary of the French Academy 1 Nov 1772. Oeuvres de Lavoisier, Correspondance, Fasc. II. 1770-75 (1957), 389-90. Adapted from translation by A. N. Meldrum, The Eighteenth-Century Revolution in Science (1930), 3.
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As the component parts of all new machines may be said to be old[,] it is a nice discriminating judgment, which discovers that a particular arrangement will produce a new and desired effect. ... Therefore, the mechanic should sit down among levers, screws, wedges, wheels, etc. like a poet among the letters of the alphabet, considering them as the exhibition of his thoughts; in which a new arrangement transmits a new idea to the world.
A Treatise on the Improvement of Canal Navigation (1796), preface, x.
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At the Egyptian city of Naucratis there was a famous old god whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis was sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters.
Plato
In the Phaedrus. Collected in Plato the Teacher (1897), 171. A footnote gives that Naucratis was a city in the Delta of Egypt, on a branch of the Nile.
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Chemical signs ought to be letters, for the greater facility of writing, and not to disfigure a printed book ... I shall take therefore for the chemical sign, the initial letter of the Latin name of each elementary substance: but as several have the same initial letter, I shall distinguish them in the following manner:— 1. In the class which I shall call metalloids, I shall employ the initial letter only, even when this letter is common to the metalloid and to some metal. 2. In the class of metals, I shall distinguish those that have the same initials with another metal, or a metalloid, by writing the first two letters of the word. 3. If the first two letters be common to two metals, I shall, in that case, add to the initial letter the first consonant which they have not in common: for example, S = sulphur, Si = silicium, St = stibium (antimony), Sn = stannum (tin), C = carbonicum, Co = colbaltum (colbalt), Cu = cuprum (copper), O = oxygen, Os = osmium, &c.
'Essay on the Cause of Chemical Proportions, and on some circumstances relating to them: together with a short and easy method of expressing them', Annals of Philosophy, 1814, 3,51-2.
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He that in ye mine of knowledge deepest diggeth, hath, like every other miner, ye least breathing time, and must sometimes at least come to terr. alt. for air.
[Explaining how he writes a letter as break from his study.]
Letter to Dr. Law (15 Dec 1716) as quoted in Norman Lockyer, (ed.), Nature (25 May 1881), 24, 39. The source refers to it as an unpublished letter.
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I have had a fairly long life, above all a very happy one, and I think that I shall be remembered with some regrets and perhaps leave some reputation behind me. What more could I ask? The events in which I am involved will probably save me from the troubles of old age. I shall die in full possession of my faculties, and that is another advantage that I should count among those that I have enjoyed. If I have any distressing thoughts, it is of not having done more for my family; to be unable to give either to them or to you any token of my affection and my gratitude is to be poor indeed.
Letter to Augez de Villiers, undated. Quoted in D. McKie, Antoine Lavoisier: Scientist, Economist, Social Reformer (1952), 303.
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I have just received copies of “To-day” containing criticisms of my letter. I am in no way surprised to find that these criticisms are not only unfair and misleading in the extreme. They are misleading in so far that anyone reading them would be led to believe the exact opposite of the truth. It is quite possible that I, an old and trained engineer and chronic experimenter, should put an undue value upon truth; but it is common to all scientific men. As nothing but the truth is of any value to them, they naturally dislike things that are not true. ... While my training has, perhaps, warped my mind so that I put an undue value upon truth, their training has been such as to cause them to abhor exact truth and logic.
[Replying to criticism by Colonel Acklom and other religious parties attacking Maxim's earlier contribution to the controversy about the modern position of Christianity.]
In G.K. Chesterton, 'The Maxims of Maxim', Daily News (25 Feb 1905). Collected in G. K. Chesterton and Dale Ahlquist (ed.), In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton (2011), 86.
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I have made this one [letter] longer than usual because I did not have the leisure to make it shorter.
The Provincial Letters, Letter XVI, to the Reverend Jesuit Fathers (4 Dec 1656), ed. A. J. Krailsheimer (1967), 257.
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If atoms do, by chance, happen to combine themselves into so many shapes, why have they never combined together to form a house or a slipper? By the same token, why do we not believe that if innumerable letters of the Greek alphabet were poured all over the market-place they would eventually happen to form the text of the Iliad?
The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, Book 2, Chapter 12, 'Apology for Raymond Sebond', trans. M. A. Screech (1991), 612.
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In the printed page the only real things are the paper and the ink; the white spaces play the same part in aiding the eye to take in the meaning of the print as do the black letters.
From Under the Apple-Trees (1916), 302.
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It is probably no exaggeration to suppose that in order to improve such an organ as the eye at all, it must be improved in ten different ways at once. And the improbability of any complex organ being produced and brought to perfection in any such way is an improbability of the same kind and degree as that of producing a poem or a mathematical demonstration by throwing letters at random on a table.
[Expressing his reservations about Darwin's proposed evolution of the eye by natural selection.]
Opening address to the Belfast Natural History Society, as given in the 'Belfast Northern Whig,' (19 Nov 1866). As cited by Charles Darwin in The Variation of Animals & Plants Under Domestication (1868), 222.
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Know thyself! This is the source of all wisdom, said the great thinkers of the past, and the sentence was written in golden letters on the temple of the gods. To know himself, Linnζus declared to be the essential indisputable distinction of man above all other creatures. I know, indeed, in study nothing more worthy of free and thoughtful man than the study of himself. For if we look for the purpose of our existence, we cannot possibly find it outside ourselves. We are here for our own sake.
As translated and quoted in Ernst Haeckel and E. Ray Lankester (trans.) as epigraph for Chap. 9, The History of Creation (1886), Vol. 1, 244.
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Much later, when I discussed the problem with Einstein, he remarked that the introduction of the cosmological term was the biggest blunder he ever made in his life. But this “blunder,” rejected by Einstein, is still sometimes used by cosmologists even today, and the cosmological constant denoted by the Greek letter Λ rears its ugly head again and again and again.
My World Line (1970). Cited in Edward Robert Harrison, Cosmology: the Science of the Universe (2000), 379, which adds: “The Λ force is referred to by various names, such as the cosmological constant, cosmological term, cosmical constant or cosmical term.”
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Sir,—The Planet [Neptune] whose position you marked out actually exists. On the day on which your letter reached me, I found a star of the eighth magnitude, which was not recorded in the excellent map designed by Dr. Bremiker, containing the twenty-first hour of the collection published by the Royal Academy of Berlin. The observation of the succeeding day showed it to be the Planet of which we were in quest.
Letter, from Berlin (25 Sep 1846). In John Pringle Nichol, The Planet Neptune: An Exposition and History (1848), 89. Galle thus confirmed the existence of the planet Neptune, found at the position predicted in a letter he had just received from Urbain Le Verrier.
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The stories of Whitney's love for experimenting are legion. At one time he received a letter asking if insects could live in a vacuum. Whitney took the letter to one of the members of his staff and asked the man if he cared to run an experiment on the subject. The man replied that there was no point in it, since it was well established that life could not exist without a supply of oxygen. Whitney, who was an inveterate student of wild life, replied that on his farm he had seen turtles bury themselves in mud each fall, and, although the mud was covered with ice and snow for months, emerge again in the spring. The man exclaimed, "Oh, you mean hibernation!" Whitney answered, "I don't know what I mean, but I want to know if bugs can live in a vacuum."
He proceeded down the hall and broached the subject to another member of the staff. Faced with the same lack of enthusiasm for pursuing the matter further, Whitney tried another illustration. "I've been told that you can freeze a goldfish solidly in a cake of ice, where he certainly can't get much oxygen, and can keep him there for a month or two. But if you thaw him out carefully he seems none the worse for his experience." The second scientist replied, "Oh, you mean suspended animation." Whitney once again explained that his interest was not in the terms but in finding an answer to the question.
Finally Whitney returned to his own laboratory and set to work. He placed a fly and a cockroach in a bell jar and removed the air. The two insects promptly keeled over. After approximately two hours, however, when he gradually admitted air again, the cockroach waved its feelers and staggered to its feet. Before long, both the cockroach and the fly were back in action.
'Willis Rodney Whitney', National Academy of Sciences, Biographical Memoirs (1960), 357-358.
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True greatness is when your name is like ampere, watt, and fourier—when it's spelled with a lower case letter.
'You and Your Research', Bell Communications Research Colloquium Seminar, 7 Mar 1986.
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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