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Past Quotes (42 quotes)

A few days ago, a Master of Arts, who is still a young man, and therefore the recipient of a modern education, stated to me that until he had reached the age of twenty he had never been taught anything whatever regarding natural phenomena, or natural law. Twelve years of his life previously had been spent exclusively amongst the ancients. The case, I regret to say, is typical. Now we cannot, without prejudice to humanity, separate the present from the past.
'On the Study of Physics', From a Lecture delivered in the Royal Institution of Great Britain in the Spring of 1854. Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 1, 284-5.
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A strict materialist believes that everything depends on the motion of matter. He knows the form of the laws of motion though he does not know all their consequences when applied to systems of unknown complexity.
Now one thing in which the materialist (fortified with dynamical knowledge) believes is that if every motion great & small were accurately reversed, and the world left to itself again, everything would happen backwards the fresh water would collect out of the sea and run up the rivers and finally fly up to the clouds in drops which would extract heat from the air and evaporate and afterwards in condensing would shoot out rays of light to the sun and so on. Of course all living things would regrede from the grave to the cradle and we should have a memory of the future but not of the past.
The reason why we do not expect anything of this kind to take place at any time is our experience of irreversible processes, all of one kind, and this leads to the doctrine of a beginning & an end instead of cyclical progression for ever.
Letter to Mark Pattison (7 Apr 1868). In P. M. Hannan (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1995), Vol. 2, 1862-1873, 360-1.
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All that comes above the surface [of the globe] lies within the province of Geography; all that comes below that surface lies inside the realm of Geology. The surface of the earth is that which, so to speak, divides them and at the same time 'binds them together in indissoluble union.' We may, perhaps, put the case metaphorically. The relationships of the two are rather like that of man and wife. Geography, like a prudent woman, has followed the sage advice of Shakespeare and taken unto her 'an elder than herself; but she does not trespass on the domain of her consort, nor could she possibly maintain the respect of her children were she to flaunt before the world the assertion that she is 'a woman with a past.'
Proceedings of the Geological Society of London (1903), 59, lxxviii.
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As geology is essentially a historical science, the working method of the geologist resembles that of the historian. This makes the personality of the geologist of essential importance in the way he analyzes the past.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 453.
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Evolution: At the Mind's Cinema
I turn the handle and the story starts:
Reel after reel is all astronomy,
Till life, enkindled in a niche of sky,
Leaps on the stage to play a million parts.
Life leaves the slime and through all ocean darts;
She conquers earth, and raises wings to fly;
Then spirit blooms, and learns how not to die,-
Nesting beyond the grave in others' hearts.
I turn the handle: other men like me
Have made the film: and now I sit and look
In quiet, privileged like Divinity
To read the roaring world as in a book.
If this thy past, where shall they future climb,
O Spirit, built of Elements and Time?
'Evolution: At the Mind's Cinema' (1922), in The Captive Shrew and Other Poems of a Biologist (1932), 55.
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Experiments in geology are far more difficult than in physics and chemistry because of the greater size of the objects, commonly outside our laboratories, up to the earth itself, and also because of the fact that the geologic time scale exceeds the human time scale by a million and more times. This difference in time allows only direct observations of the actual geologic processes, the mind having to imagine what could possibly have happened in the past.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 455-6.
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For it is the duty of an astronomer to compose the history of the celestial motions or hypotheses about them. Since he cannot in any certain way attain to the true causes, he will adopt whatever suppositions enable the motions to be computed correctly from the principles of geometry for the future as well as for the past.
From unauthorized preface Osiander anonymously added when he was entrusted with arranging the printing of the original work by Copernicus. As translated in Nicolaus Copernicus and Jerzy Dobrzycki (ed.), Nicholas Copernicus on the Revolutions (1978), xvi.
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Hardly a pure science, history is closer to animal husbandry than it is to mathematics, in that it involves selective breeding. The principal difference between the husbandryman and the historian is that the former breeds sheep or cows or such, and the latter breeds (assumed) facts. The husbandryman uses his skills to enrich the future; the historian uses his to enrich the past. Both are usually up to their ankles in bullshit.
Another Roadside Attraction (1990), 127.
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His mind illumined the Past and the Future and wrought greatly for the present. By his genius distant lands converse and men sail unafraid upon the deep.
Epitaph
Inscription on the tomb of Reginald and Helen Fessenden in Bermuda. In Frederick Seitz, The Cosmic Inventor: Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932) (1999), 61, being Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Held at Philadelphia For Promoting Useful Knowledge, Vol. 86, Pt. 6.
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Historians constantly rewrite history, reinterpreting (reorganizing) the records of the past. So, too, when the brain's coherent responses become part of a memory, they are organized anew as part of the structure of consciousness. What makes them memories is that they become part of that structure and thus form part of the sense of self; my sense of self derives from a certainty that my experiences refer back to me, the individual who is having them. Hence the sense of the past, of history, of memory, is in part the creation of the self.
The Strange, Familiar, and Forgotten: An Anatomy of Consciousness (1995), 87.
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Human behaviour reveals uniformities which constitute natural laws. If these uniformities did not exist, then there would be neither social science nor political economy, and even the study of history would largely be useless. In effect, if the future actions of men having nothing in common with their past actions, our knowledge of them, although possibly satisfying our curiosity by way of an interesting story, would be entirely useless to us as a guide in life.
Cours d'Economie Politique (1896-7), Vol. 2, 397.
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I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging of the future but by the past.
Speech (Mar 1775) at the Virginia Convention. In W. Thomson (ed.), The Chartist Circular (), 244
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If ... the past may be no Rule for the future, all Experience becomes useless and can give rise to no Inferences or Conclusions.
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748), 65.
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In preparing the present volume, it has been the aim of the author to do full justice to the ample material at his command, and, where possible, to make the illustrations tell the main story to anatomists. The text of such a memoir may soon lose its interest, and belong to the past, but good figures are of permanent value. [Justifying elaborate illustrations in his monographs.]
In Dinocerata: a monograph of an extinct order of gigantic mammals (1884), Preface, xvii.
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It would take a civilization far more advanced than ours, unbelievably advanced, to begin to manipulate negative energy to create gateways to the past. But if you could obtain large quantities of negative energy—and that's a big “IF”—then you could create a time machine that apparently obeys Einstein's equation and perhaps the laws of quantum theory.
Quoted by J.R. Minkel in 'Borrowed Time: Interview with Michio Kaku', Scientific American (23 Nov 2003).
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I’m not an historian but I can get interested—obsessively interested—with any aspect of the past, whether it’s palaeontology or archaeology or the very recent past.
Interview with Robert McCrum, in The Observer (26 Aug 2001).
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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, Linnæus 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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Nobody knows more than a tiny fragment of science well enough to judge its validity and value at first hand. For the rest he has to rely on views accepted at second hand on the authority of a community of people accredited as scientists. But this accrediting depends in its turn on a complex organization. For each member of the community can judge at first hand only a small number of his fellow members, and yet eventually each is accredited by all. What happens is that each recognizes as scientists a number of others by whom he is recognized as such in return, and these relations form chains which transmit these mutual recognitions at second hand through the whole community. This is how each member becomes directly or indirectly accredited by all. The system extends into the past. Its members recognize the same set of persons as their masters and derive from this allegiance a common tradition, of which each carries on a particular strand.
Personal Knowledge (1958), 163.
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Our experience shows that not everything that is observable and measurable is predictable, no matter how complete our past observations may have been.
In Presidential Address (8 Feb 1963), Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society (Mar 1963), 4, 197.
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Scientific training gives its votaries freedom from the impositions of modern quackery. Those who know nothing of the laws and processes of Nature fall an easy prey to quacks and impostors. Perfectionism in the realm of religion; a score of frauds in the realm of medicine, as electric shoe soles, hair brushes and belts, electropises, oxydonors, insulating bed casters, and the like; Christian science. In the presence of whose unspeakable stillness and self-stultifying idealism a wise man knows not whether to laugh or cry; Prof. Weltmer's magnetic treatment of disease; divine healing and miracle working by long-haired peripatetics—these and a score of other contagious fads and rank impostures find their followers among those who have no scientific training. Among their deluded victims are thousands of men and women of high character, undoubted piety, good intentions, charitable impulses and literary culture, but none trained to scientific research. Vaccinate the general public with scientific training and these epidemics will become a thing of the past.
As quoted by S.D. Van Meter, Chairman, closing remarks for 'Report of Committee on Public Policy and Legislation', to the Colorado State Medical Society in Denver, printed in Colorado Medicine (Oct 1904), 1, No. 12, 363. Van Meter used the quote following his statement, “In conclusion, allow me to urge once more the necessity of education of the public as well as the profession if we ever expect to correct the evils we are striving to reach by State and Society legislation. Much can be accomplished toward this end by the publication of well edited articles in the secular press upon medical subjects the public is eager to know about.” Prof. Weitmer is presumably Sidney A. Weltmer, founder of The Weltmer Institute of Suggestive Therapeutics, who offered a Course in Magnetic Healing by mail order correspondance (1899).
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Socrates said, our only knowledge was
“To know that nothing could be known;” a pleasant
Science enough, which levels to an ass
Each Man of Wisdom, future, past, or present.
Newton, (that Proverb of the Mind,) alas!
Declared, with all his grand discoveries recent,
That he himself felt only “like a youth
Picking up shells by the great Ocean—Truth.”
From poem, 'Don Juan,' (1822), canto 7, verse V. In Lord Byron, Don Juan: Cantos VI, VII and VIII (1823), 67.
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Some blessings have been ours in the past, and these may be repeated or even multiplied.
Quoted, without citation, in front matter to T. A. Edison Foundation, Lewis Howard Latimer: A Black Inventor: a Biography and Related Experiments You Can Do (1973). If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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The advance from the simple to the complex, through a process of successive differentiations, is seen alike in the earliest changes of the Universe to which we can reason our way back, and in the earliest changes which we can inductively establish; it is seen in the geologic and climatic evolution of the Earth; it is seen in the unfolding of every single organism on its surface, and in the multiplication of kinds of organisms; it is seen in the evolution of Humanity, whether contemplated in the civilized individual, or in the aggregate of races; it is seen in the evolution of Society in respect alike of its political, its religious, and its economical organization; and it is seen in the evolution of all those endless concrete and abstract products of human activity which constitute the environment of our daily life. From the remotest past which Science can fathom, up to the novelties of yesterday, that in which Progress essentially consists, is the transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous.
Progress: Its Law and Cause (1857), 35.
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The advance of science is not comparable to the changes of a city, where old edifices are pitilessly torn down to give place to new, but to the continuous evolution of zoologic types which develop ceaselessly and end by becoming unrecognisable to the common sight, but where an expert eye finds always traces of the prior work of the centuries past. One must not think then that the old-fashioned theories have been sterile and vain.
The Value of Science (1905), in The Foundations of Science: Science and Hypothesis, The Value of Science, Science and Method(1946), trans. by George Bruce Halsted, 208.
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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 Doctrine of Evolution states the fact that the present is the child of the past and the parent of the future.
In Outline of Science: A Plain Story Simply Told (1922), Vol. 1, 185.
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The meaning of human life and the destiny of man cannot be separable from the meaning and destiny of life in general. 'What is man?' is a special case of 'What is life?' Probably the human species is not intelligent enough to answer either question fully, but even such glimmerings as are within our powers must be precious to us. The extent to which we can hope to understand ourselves and to plan our future depends in some measure on our ability to read the riddles of the past. The present, for all its awesome importance to us who chance to dwell in it, is only a random point in the long flow of time. Terrestrial life is one and continuous in space and time. Any true comprehension of it requires the attempt to view it whole and not in the artificial limits of any one place or epoch. The processes of life can be adequately displayed only in the course of life throughout the long ages of its existence.
The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life and of its Significance for Man (1949), 9.
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The scientist, if he is to be more than a plodding gatherer of bits of information, needs to exercise an active imagination. The scientists of the past whom we now recognize as great are those who were gifted with transcendental imaginative powers, and the part played by the imaginative faculty of his daily life is as least as important for the scientist as it is for the worker in any other field—much more important than for most. A good scientist thinks logically and accurately when conditions call for logical and accurate thinking—but so does any other good worker when he has a sufficient number of well-founded facts to serve as the basis for the accurate, logical induction of generalizations and the subsequent deduction of consequences.
‘Imagination in Science’, Tomorrow (Dec 1943), 38-9. Quoted In Barbara Marinacci (ed.), Linus Pauling In His Own Words: Selected Writings, Speeches, and Interviews (1995), 82.
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The subject-matter of Archaeology is threefold—the Oral, the Written and the Monumental.
In Lecture to the Oxford meeting of the Archaeological Institute (18 Jun 1850), printed in 'On the Study of Achaeology', Archaeological Journal (1851), 8, 2.
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There are still psychologists who, in a basic misunderstanding, think that gestalt theory tends to underestimate the role of past experience. Gestalt theory tries to differentiate between and-summative aggregates, on the one hand, and gestalten, structures, on the other, both in sub-wholes and in the total field, and to develop appropriate scientific tools for investigating the latter. It opposes the dogmatic application to all cases of what is adequate only for piecemeal aggregates. The question is whether an approach in piecemeal terms, through blind connections, is or is not adequate to interpret actual thought processes and the role of the past experience as well. Past experience has to be considered thoroughly, but it is ambiguous in itself; so long as it is taken in piecemeal, blind terms it is not the magic key to solve all problems.
In Productive Thinking (1959), 65.
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There can be no real conflict between the two Books of the Great Author. Both are revelations made by Him to man,—the earlier telling of God-made harmonies coming up from the deep past, and rising to their height when man appeared, the later teaching man's relations to his Maker, and speaking of loftier harmonies in the eternal future.
Conclusion of 'Cosmogony', the last chapter in Manual of Geology, Treating of the Principles of the Science (1863), 746.
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There is only one law of Nature—the second law of thermodynamics—which recognises a distinction between past and future more profound than the difference of plus and minus. It stands aloof from all the rest. ... It opens up a new province of knowledge, namely, the study of organisation; and it is in connection with organisation that a direction of time-flow and a distinction between doing and undoing appears for the first time.
In The Nature of the Physical World (1928, 2005), 67-68.
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We ought then to consider the present state of the universe as the effect of its previous state and as the cause of that which is to follow. An intelligence that, at a given instant, could comprehend all the forces by which nature is animated and the respective situation of the beings that make it up, if moreover it were vast enough to submit these data to analysis, would encompass in the same formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the lightest atoms. For such an intelligence nothing would be uncertain, and the future, like the past, would be open to its eyes.
Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1814), 5th edition (1825), trans. Andrew I. Dale (1995), 2.
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We see past time in a telescope and present time in a microscope. Hence the apparent enormities of the present.
In Victor Hugo and Lorenzo O'Rourke (trans.) Victor Hugo's Intellectual Autobiography: (Postscriptum de ma vie) (1907), 380.
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What is possible can never be demonstrated to be false; and 'tis possible the course of nature may change, since we can conceive such a change. Nay, I will go farther, and assert, that he could not so much as prove by any probable arguments, that the future must be conformable to the past. All probable arguments are built on the supposition, that there is this conformity betwixt the future and the past, and therefore can never prove it. This conformity is a matter of fact, and if it must be proved, will admit of no proof but from experience. But our experience in the past can be a proof of nothing for the future, but upon a supposition, that there is a resemblance betwixt them. This therefore is a point, which can admit of no proof at all, and which we take for granted without any proof.
An Abstract of A Treatise on Human Nature (1740), ed. John Maynard Keynes and Piero Sraffa (1938), 15.
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When every fact, every present or past phenomenon of that universe, every phase of present or past life therein, has been examined, classified, and co-ordinated with the rest, then the mission of science will be completed. What is this but saying that the task of science can never end till man ceases to be, till history is no longer made, and development itself ceases?
The Grammar of Science (1892), 15.
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While it is never safe to affirm that the future of Physical Science has no marvels in store even more astonishing than those of the past, it seems probable that most of the grand underlying principles have been firmly established and that further advances are to be sought chiefly in the rigorous application of these principles to all the phenomena which come under our notice.
'Spectroscopy, Molecular Orbitals, and Chemical Bonding', Nobel Lecture (12 Dec 1966). In Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1963-1970 (1972), 159.
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Why is it so easy to acquire the solutions of past problems and so difficult to solve current ones
(Attributed ??) This quote is often seen, but without a citation, even on the official Marshall McLuhan website. If you known a primary print source, please contact Webmaster.
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Why should we look to the past in order to prepare for the future? Because there is nowhere else to look.
In Connections (1978, 1979), 287.
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Without adventure civilization is in full decay. ... The great fact [is] that in their day the great achievements of the past were the adventures of the past.
In Adventures of Ideas (1933), 36.
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[On common water.] Its substance reaches everywhere; it touches the past and prepares the future; it moves under the poles and wanders thinly in the heights of air. It can assume forms of exquisite perfection in a snowflake, or strip the living to a single shining bone cast up by the sea.
From essay 'The Flow of the River', collected in The Immense Journey: An Imaginative Naturalist Explores the Mysteries of Man and Nature (1957, 1959), 16.
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[To] mechanical progress there is apparently no end: for as in the past so in the future, each step in any direction will remove limits and bring in past barriers which have till then blocked the way in other directions; and so what for the time may appear to be a visible or practical limit will turn out to be but a bend in the road.
Opening address to the Mechanical Science Section, Meeting of the British Association, Manchester. In Nature (15 Sep 1887), 36, 475.
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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