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Possibility Quotes (67 quotes)

'Normal' science, in Kuhn's sense, exists. It is the activity of the non-revolutionary, or more precisely, the not-too-critical professional: of the science student who accepts the ruling dogma of the day... in my view the 'normal' scientist, as Kuhn describes him, is a person one ought to be sorry for... He has been taught in a dogmatic spirit: he is a victim of indoctrination... I can only say that I see a very great danger in it and in the possibility of its becoming normal... a danger to science and, indeed, to our civilization. And this shows why I regard Kuhn's emphasis on the existence of this kind of science as so important.
'Normal Science and its Dangers', in I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave (eds.), Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (1970), 52-3.
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'Unless,' said I [Socrates], either philosophers become kings in our states or those whom we now call our kings:. and rulers take to the pursuit of' philosophy seriously and adequately, and there is a conjunction of these two things, political power and philosophic intelligence, while the motley horde of the natures who at present pursue either apart from the other are compulsorily excluded, there can be no cessation of troubles, dear Glaucon, for our states, nor, I fancy for the human race either. Nor, until this happens, will this constitution which we have been expounding in theory ever be put into practice within the limits of possibility and see the light of the sun.
Plato
The Republic 5 474ce, trans. P. Shorey (1930), Vol. 1, Book 5, 509.
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“The Universe repeats itself, with the possible exception of history.” Of all earthly studies history is the only one that does not repeat itself. ... Astronomy repeats itself; botany repeats itself; trigonometry repeats itself; mechanics repeats itself; compound long division repeats itself. Every sum if worked out in the same way at any time will bring out the same answer. ... A great many moderns say that history is a science; if so it occupies a solitary and splendid elevation among the sciences; it is the only science the conclusions of which are always wrong.
In 'A Much Repeated Repetition', Daily News (26 Mar 1904). Collected in G. K. Chesterton and Dale Ahlquist (ed.), In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton (2011), 82.
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‘Endow scientific research and we shall know the truth, when and where it is possible to ascertain it;’' but the counterblast is at hand: ‘To endow research is merely to encourage the research for endowment; the true man of science will not be held back by poverty, and if science is of use to us, it will pay for itself.’ Such are but a few samples of the conflict of opinion which we find raging around us.
The Grammar of Science (1892), 5.
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Dilbert: Wow! According to my computer simulation, it should be possible to create new life forms from common household chemicals
Dogbert: This raises some thorny issues.
Dilbert: You mean legal, ethical and religious issues?
Dogbert: I was thinking about parking spaces.
Dilbert comic strip (31 May 1989).
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By no amount of reasoning can we altogether eliminate all contingency from our world. Moreover, pure speculation alone will not enable us to get a determinate picture of the existing world. We must eliminate some of the conflicting possibilities, and this can be brought about only by experiment and observation.
Reason and Nature: an Essay on the Meaning of Scientific Method? (2nd Ed., 1964), 82.
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Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing either that they exist or that they do not exist, nor what sort of form they may have; there are many reasons why knowledge on this subject is not possible, owing to the lack of evidence and the shortness of human life.
Protagoras, fr. 1, quoted in E. Hussey, The Pre-Socratics (1972), 109.
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Edison was by far the most successful and, probably, the last exponent of the purely empirical method of investigation. Everything he achieved was the result of persistent trials and experiments often performed at random but always attesting extraordinary vigor and resource. Starting from a few known elements, he would make their combinations and permutations, tabulate them and run through the whole list, completing test after test with incredible rapidity until he obtained a clue. His mind was dominated by one idea, to leave no stone unturned, to exhaust every possibility.
As quoted in 'Tesla Says Edison Was an Empiricist', The New York Times (19 Oct 1931), 25.
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Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?
A Brief History of Time (1998), 190.
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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 some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man. My disease has increased in severity and I feel that it will soon cost me an increased amount of money if not my life.
Opening line his first letter (13 May 1900) to Octave Chanute. In Marvin W. McFarland (ed.) The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright: 1899-1905 (1953), Vol. 1, 13.
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Geology differs from physics, chemistry, and biology in that the possibilities for experiment are limited.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 453.
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However far modern science and technics have fallen short of their inherent possibilities, they have taught mankind at least one lesson: Nothing is impossible.
Technics and Civilization (1934), 435.
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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 am too much of a sceptic to deny the possibility of anything.
Letter to Herbert Spencer (22 Mar 1886). In L. Huxley, The Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley (1903), Vol. 2, 443.
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I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.
Letter, to General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (1650). In The Parliamentary or Constitutional History of England (1763), Vol. 19, 322.
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I doubt that Fleming could have obtained a grant for the discovery of penicillin on that basis [a requirement for highly detailed research plans] because he could not have said, 'I propose to have an accident in a culture so that it will be spoiled by a mould falling on it, and I propose to recognize the possibility of extracting an antibiotic from this mould.'
Remarks to the Canadian Senate on Science Policy, in From Dream to Discovery: On Being a Scientist (1964). In Ken G. Smith (ed.) and Michael A. Hitt (ed), Great Minds in Management: the Theory of Process Development (2005), 368
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I had at one time a very bad fever of which I almost died. In my fever I had a long consistent delirium. I dreamt that I was in Hell, and that Hell is a place full of all those happenings that are improbable but not impossible. The effects of this are curious. Some of the damned, when they first arrive below, imagine that they will beguile the tedium of eternity by games of cards. But they find this impossible, because, whenever a pack is shuffled, it comes out in perfect order, beginning with the Ace of Spades and ending with the King of Hearts. There is a special department of Hell for students of probability. In this department there are many typewriters and many monkeys. Every time that a monkey walks on a typewriter, it types by chance one of Shakespeare's sonnets. There is another place of torment for physicists. In this there are kettles and fires, but when the kettles are put on the fires, the water in them freezes. There are also stuffy rooms. But experience has taught the physicists never to open a window because, when they do, all the air rushes out and leaves the room a vacuum.
'The Metaphysician's Nightmare', Nightmares of Eminent Persons and Other Stories (1954), 38-9.
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I suspect that the changes that have taken place during the last century in the average man's fundamental beliefs, in his philosophy, in his concept of religion. in his whole world outlook, are greater than the changes that occurred during the preceding four thousand years all put together. ... because of science and its applications to human life, for these have bloomed in my time as no one in history had had ever dreamed could be possible.
In The Autobiography of Robert A. Millikan (1951, 1980), xii.
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I think that the event which, more than anything else, led me to the search for ways of making more powerful radio telescopes, was the recognition, in 1952, that the intense source in the constellation of Cygnus was a distant galaxy—1000 million light years away. This discovery showed that some galaxies were capable of producing radio emission about a million times more intense than that from our own Galaxy or the Andromeda nebula, and the mechanisms responsible were quite unknown. ... [T]he possibilities were so exciting even in 1952 that my colleagues and I set about the task of designing instruments capable of extending the observations to weaker and weaker sources, and of exploring their internal structure.
From Nobel Lecture (12 Dec 1974). In Stig Lundqvist (ed.), Nobel Lectures, Physics 1971-1980 (1992), 187.
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If it were possible for a metaphysician to be a golfer, he might perhaps occasionally notice that his ball, instead of moving forward in a vertical plane (like the generality of projectiles, such as brickbats and cricket balls), skewed away gradually to the right. If he did notice it, his methods would naturally lead him to content himself with his caddies's remark-'ye heeled that yin,' or 'Ye jist sliced it.' ... But a scientific man is not to be put off with such flimsy verbiage as that. He must know more. What is 'Heeling', what is 'slicing', and why would either operation (if it could be thoroughly carried out) send a ball as if to cover point, thence to long slip, and finally behind back-stop? These, as Falstaff said, are 'questions to be asked.'
'The Unwritten Chapter on Golf, Nature (1887), 36, 502.
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If the Weismann idea triumphs, it will be in a sense a triumph of fatalism; for, according to it, while we may indefinitely improve the forces of our education and surroundings, and this civilizing nurture will improve the individuals of each generation, its actual effects will not be cumulative as regards the race itself, but only as regards the environment of the race; each new generation must start de novo, receiving no increment of the moral and intellectual advance made during the lifetime of its predecessors. It would follow that one deep, almost instinctive motive for a higher life would be removed if the race were only superficially benefited by its nurture, and the only possible channel of actual improvement were in the selection of the fittest chains of race plasma.
'The Present Problem of Heredity', The Atlantic Monthly (1891), 57, 363.
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In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there, I might possibly answer, that, for any thing I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to shew the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be enquired how the watch happened to be in that place, I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that, for any thing I knew, the watch might have always been there.
Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature (1802), 1-2.
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In the 1920s, there was a dinner at which the physicist Robert W. Wood was asked to respond to a toast ... "To physics and metaphysics." Now by metaphysics was meant something like philosophy—truths that you could get to just by thinking about them. Wood took a second, glanced about him, and answered along these lines: The physicist has an idea, he said. The more he thinks it through, the more sense it makes to him. He goes to the scientific literature, and the more he reads, the more promising the idea seems. Thus prepared, he devises an experiment to test the idea. The experiment is painstaking. Many possibilities are eliminated or taken into account; the accuracy of the measurement is refined. At the end of all this work, the experiment is completed and ... the idea is shown to be worthless. The physicist then discards the idea, frees his mind (as I was saying a moment ago) from the clutter of error, and moves on to something else. The difference between physics and metaphysics, Wood concluded, is that the metaphysicist has no laboratory.
In 'Wonder and Skepticism', Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.
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Is science visionary? Is it not the hardest-headed intellectual discipline we know? How, then, does science look at this universe? Always as a bundle of possibilities. Habitually the scientist looks at this universe and every area in it as a bundle of possibilities, with no telling what might come if we fulfilled the conditions. Thomas Edison was no dreamer. He was a seer. The possibilities that he brought out were factually there. They were there before he saw them. They would have been there if he never had seen them. Always the possibilities are part of the actualities in any given situation.
In 'Don't Lose Faith in Human Possibilities', collected in Living Under Tension: Sermons On Christianity Today (1941), 15.
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It is in scientific honesty that I endorse the presentation of alternative theories for the origin of the universe, life and man in the science classroom. It would be an error to overlook the possibility that the universe was planned rather than happening by chance.
In letter to California State board of Education (14 Sep 1972).
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It is not always the most brilliant speculations nor the choice of the most exotic materials that is most profitable. I prefer Monsieur de Reaumur busy exterminating moths by means of an oily fleece; or increasing fowl production by making them hatch without the help of their mothers, than Monsieur Bemouilli absorbed in algebra, or Monsieur Leibniz calculating the various advantages and disadvantages of the possible worlds.
Spectacle, 1, 475. Quoted in Camille Limoges, 'Noel-Antoine Pluche', in C. C. Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1974 ), Vol. 11, 43.
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It is not easy to imagine how little interested a scientist usually is in the work of any other, with the possible exception of the teacher who backs him or the student who honors him.
Pensées d'un Biologiste (1939). Translated in The Substance of Man (1962), 195.
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It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge & skill.
From his first letter (13 May 1900) to Octave Chanute. In Marvin W. McFarland (ed.) The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright: 1899-1905 (1953), Vol. 1, 13.
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It is to geometry that we owe in some sort the source of this discovery [of beryllium]; it is that [science] that furnished the first idea of it, and we may say that without it the knowledge of this new earth would not have been acquired for a long time, since according to the analysis of the emerald by M. Klaproth and that of the beryl by M. Bindheim one would not have thought it possible to recommence this work without the strong analogies or even almost perfect identity that Citizen Haüy found for the geometrical properties between these two stony fossils.
Haüy used the geometry of cleavage to reveal the underlying crystal structure, and thus found the emeral and beryl were geometrically identical. In May Elvira Weeks, The Discovery of the Elements (1934), 153, citing Mellor, Comprehensive Treatise on Inorganic and Theoretical Chemistry (1923), 204-7.
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It will be possible, through the detailed determination of amino-acid sequences of hemoglobin molecules and of other molecules too, to obtain much information about the course of the evolutionary process, and to illuminate the question of the origin of species.
‘Molecular Disease and Evolution’. Typescript of the Rudolph Virchow Lecture (5 Nov 1962). Quoted in T. Hager, Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling (1997), 541.
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My task was to show the psychologists that it is possible to apply physiological knowledge to the phenomena of psychical life.
'Reflexes of the Brain', Selected Works (1935), 335-6.
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Nothing in physics seems so hopeful to as the idea that it is possible for a theory to have a high degree of symmetry was hidden from us in everyday life. The physicist's task is to find this deeper symmetry.
In American Scientist (1977) (as cited in The Atlantic (1984), 254, 81.) As an epigraph in Crystal and Dragon: The Cosmic Dance of Symmetry and Chaos in Nature, Art and Consciousness (1993), 139.
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Philosophy stands in need of a science which shall determine the possibility, principles, and extent of human knowledge à priori.
Critique of Pure Reason, translated by John Miller Dow Meiklejohn (1899), 4.
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Physicists often quote from T. H. White's epic novel The Once and Future King, where a society of ants declares, “Everything not forbidden is compulsory.” In other words, if there isn't a basic principle of physics forbidding time travel, then time travel is necessarily a physical possibility. (The reason for this is the uncertainty principle. Unless something is forbidden, quantum effects and fluctuations will eventually make it possible if we wait long enough. Thus, unless there is a law forbidding it, it will eventually occur.)
In Parallel Worlds: a Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos (2006), 136.
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Physics is NOT a body of indisputable and immutable Truth; it is a body of well-supported probable opinion only .... Physics can never prove things the way things are proved in mathematics, by eliminating ALL of the alternative possibilities. It is not possible to say what the alternative possibilities are.... Write down a number of 20 figures; if you multiply this by a number of, say, 30 figures, you would arrive at some enormous number (of either 49 or 50 figures). If you were to multiply the 30-figure number by the 20-figure number you would arrive at the same enormous 49- or 50-figure number, and you know this to be true without having to do the multiplying. This is the step you can never take in physics.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 68, 88, 179.
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Qualified scientists in Washington believe that the atom-blasting of Japan is the start toward heating plants the size of telephone booths for great factories, and motor-car trips of 1,000 hours on one gram of fuel. One expert estimated that with a few grams of uranium it might be possible to power the Queen Mary from Europe to the U.S. and back again. One of America’s leading scientists, Doctor Vollrath, said that the new discovery brings man’s attempt to reach the moon within bounds of possibility.
Newspaper
The Maple Leaf (8 Aug 1945), 4.
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Science is concerned with what is possible while engineering is concerned with choosing, from among the many possible ways, one that meets a number of often poorly stated economic and practical objectives.
From Turing Award lecture (1968), 'One Man's View of Computer Science', collected in ACM Turing Award Lectures: The First Twenty Years, 1966 to 1985 (1987), 209. ACM is the Association for Computing Machinery. Also in Journal of the ACM (Jan 1969), 16, No. 1, 5.
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Scientific reasoning is a kind of dialogue between the possible and the actual, between what might be and what is in fact the case.
Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought (1969), 48.
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Since 1849 I have studied incessantly, under all its aspects, a question which was already in my mind [since 1832. I confess that my scheme is still a mere dream, and I do not shut my eyes to the fact that so long as I alone believe it to be possible, it is virtually impossible. ... The scheme in question is the cutting of a canal through the Isthmus of Suez. This has been thought of from the earliest historical times, and for that very reason is looked upon as impracticable. Geographical dictionaries inform us indeed that the project would have been executed long ago but for insurmountable obstacles. [On his inspiration for the Suez Canal.]
Letter to M.S.A. Ruyssenaers, Consul-General for Holland in Egypt, from Paris (8 Jul 1852), seeking support. Collected in Ferdinand de Lesseps, The Suez Canal: Letters and Documents Descriptive of Its Rise and Progress in 1854-1856 (1876), 2.
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The edifice of science not only requires material, but also a plan. Without the material, the plan alone is but a castle in the air—a mere possibility; whilst the material without a plan is but useless matter.
The Principles of Chemistry (1897), Vol. 1‎, ix.
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The end of our foundation [Salomon's House in the New Atlantis] is the knowledge of Causes and the secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of Human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible.
In Francis Bacon and William Rawle (ed.), The Works of Francis Bacon: Philosophical Works (1887), 156.
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The major religions on the Earth contradict each other left and right. You can't all be correct. And what if all of you are wrong? It's a possibility, you know. You must care about the truth, right? Well, the way to winnow through all the differing contentions is to be skeptical. I'm not any more skeptical about your religious beliefs than I am about every new scientific idea I hear about. But in my line of work, they're called hypotheses, not inspiration and not revelation.
Contact (1997), 162.
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The McCarthy period came along...and many of the other scientists who had been working on these same lines gave up. Probably saying "Why should I sacrifice myself? I am a scientist, I am supposed to be working on scientific things, so I don’t need to put myself at risk by talking about these possibilities." And I have said that perhaps I’m just stubborn... I have said "I don’t like anybody to tell me what to do or to think, except Mrs. Pauling."
From interview (11 Nov 1990) with Wayne Reynolds, website of the American Academy of Achievement.
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The most fundamental difference between compounds of low molecular weight and macromolecular compounds resides in the fact that the latter may exhibit properties that cannot be deduced from a close examination of the low molecular weight materials. Not very different structures can be obtained from a few building blocks; but if 10,000 or 100,000 blocks are at hand, the most varied structures become possible, such as houses or halls, whose special structure cannot be predicted from the constructions that are possible with only a few building blocks... Thus, a chromosome can be viewed as a material whose macromolecules possess a well defined arrangement, like a living room in which each piece of furniture has its place and not, as in a warehouse, where the pieces of furniture are placed together in a heap without design.
Quoted, without citation, in Ralph E. Oesper (ed.), The Human Side of Scientists (1975), 175.
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The most striking impression was that of an overwhelming bright light. I had seen under similar conditions the explosion of a large amount—100 tons—of normal explosives in the April test, and I was flabbergasted by the new spectacle. We saw the whole sky flash with unbelievable brightness in spite of the very dark glasses we wore. Our eyes were accommodated to darkness, and thus even if the sudden light had been only normal daylight it would have appeared to us much brighter than usual, but we know from measurements that the flash of the bomb was many times brighter than the sun. In a fraction of a second, at our distance, one received enough light to produce a sunburn. I was near Fermi at the time of the explosion, but I do not remember what we said, if anything. I believe that for a moment I thought the explosion might set fire to the atmosphere and thus finish the earth, even though I knew that this was not possible.
Enrico Fermi: Physicist (1970), 147.
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The science and technology which have advanced man safely into space have brought about startling medical advances for man on earth. Out of space research have come new knowledge, techniques and instruments which have enabled some bedridden invalids to walk, the totally deaf to hear, the voiceless to talk, and, in the foreseeable future, may even make it possible for the blind to "see."
'From Outer Space—Advances For Medicine on Earth', contributed in Lillian Levy, Space, Its Impact on Man and Society (1965, reprinted 1973), 117.
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The traditional mathematics professor of the popular legend is absentminded. He usually appears in public with a lost umbrella in each hand. He prefers to face a blackboard and to turn his back on the class. He writes a, he says b, he means c, but it should be d. Some of his sayings are handed down from generation to generation:
“In order to solve this differential equation you look at it till a solution occurs to you.”
“This principle is so perfectly general that no particular application of it is possible.”
“Geometry is the science of correct reasoning on incorrect figures.”
“My method to overcome a difficulty is to go round it.”
“What is the difference between method and device? A method is a device which you used twice.”
In How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (2004), 208.
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The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what's true. We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth—never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities. Cleverly designed experiments are the key.
In 'Wonder and Skepticism', Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.
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The truth us that other systems of geometry are possible, yet after all, these other systems are not spaces but other methods of space measurements. There is one space only, though we may conceive of many different manifolds, which are contrivances or ideal constructions invented for the purpose of determining space.
In Science (1903), 18, 106. In Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica (1914), 352.
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The world has arisen in some way or another. How it originated is the great question, and Darwin's theory, like all other attempts, to explain the origin of life, is thus far merely conjectural. I believe he has not even made the best conjecture possible in the present state of our knowledge.
In Evolution and Permanence of Type (1874), 12.
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There is a point of view among astronomical researchers that is generally referred to as the Principle of Mediocrity. ... If the Sun and its retinue of worlds is only one system among many, then many other systems will be like ours: home to life. Indeed, to the extent that this is true, we should be prepared for the possibility that, even in the Milky Way galaxy, billions of planets may be carpeted by the dirty, nasty business known as life.
Quoted in 'Do Aliens Exist in the Milky Way', PBS web page for WGBH Nova, 'Origins.'
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Time is in itself [not] a difficulty, but a time-rate, assumed on very insufficient grounds, is used as a master-key, whether or not it fits, to unravel all difficulties. What if it were suggested that the brick-built Pyramid of Hawara had been laid brick by brick by a single workman? Given time, this would not be beyond the bounds of possibility. But Nature, like the Pharaohs, had greater forces at her command to do the work better and more expeditiously than is admitted by Uniformitarians.
'The Position of Geology', The Nineteenth Century (1893), 34, 551.
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Understanding a theory has, indeed, much in common with understanding a human personality. We may know or understand a man's system of dispositions pretty well; that is to say, we may be able to predict how he would act in a number of different situations. But since there are infinitely many possible situations, of infinite variety, a full understanding of a man's dispositions does not seem to be possible.
Objective Knowledge: an Evolutionary Approach (1972), 299.
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Using material ferried up by rockets, it would be possible to construct a “space station” in ... orbit. The station could be provided with living quarters, laboratories and everything needed for the comfort of its crew, who would be relieved and provisioned by a regular rocket service. (1945)
In 'Can Rocket Stations Give Worldwide Coverage?', Wireless World (Oct 1945). Quoted and cited in Arthur C. Clarke, Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!: Collected Essays, 1934-1998, 22. Also quoted in 'Hazards of Communication Satellites', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (May 1961), Vol. 17, No. 5, 181, by John R. Pierce Pierce, who then commented, “Clarke thought in terms of manned space stations; today these seem very remote.”
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We know that there exist true propositions which we can never formally prove. What about propositions whose proofs require arguments beyond our capabilities? What about propositions whose proofs require millions of pages? Or a million, million pages? Are there proofs that are possible, but beyond us?
Mathematical Mysteries (1999), 295.
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We regard as 'scientific' a method based on deep analysis of facts, theories, and views, presupposing unprejudiced, unfearing open discussion and conclusions. The complexity and diversity of all the phenomena of modern life, the great possibilities and dangers linked with the scientific-technical revolution and with a number of social tendencies demand precisely such an approach, as has been acknowledged in a number of official statements.
Progress, Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom (1968), 25.
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What [man landing on the moon] is doing up there is indulging his obsession with the impossible. The impossible infuriates and tantalizes him. Show him an impossible job and he will reduce it to a possibility so trite that eventually it bores him.
'Why on Earth Are We There? Because It's Impossible', New York Times (21 Jul 1969), 17.
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When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself.
In Is Shakespeare Dead?: From My Autobiography (1909), 127-128.
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Where any answer is possible, all answers are meaningless.
[Referring to speculations (on 'Not as We Know It' alien lifeforms) made in the total absence of evidence.]
'Fifty Million Big Brothers'. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Nov 1978), 55, No. 5, 86.
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Where the untrained eye will see nothing but mire and dirt, Science will often reveal exquisite possibilities. The mud we tread under our feet in the street is a grimy mixture of clay and sand, soot and water. Separate the sand, however, as Ruskinn observes—let the atoms arrange themselves in peace according to their nature—and you have the opal. Separate the clay, and it becomes a white earth, fit for the finest porcelain; or if it still further purifies itself, you have a sapphire. Take the soot, and it properly treated it will give you a diamond. While lastly, the water, purified and distilled, will become a dew-drop, or crystallize into a lovely star. Or, again, you may see as you will in any shallow pool either the mud lying at the bottom, or the image of the heavens above.
The Pleasures of Life (1887, 2007), 63.
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With moth cytochrome C there are 30 differences and 74 identities. With bread yeast and humans, there are about 45 amino acids that are different and about 59 that are identical. Think how close together man and this other organism, bread yeast, are. What is the probability that in 59 positions the same choice out of 20 possibilities would have been made by accident? It is impossibly small. There is, there must be, a developmental explanation of this. The developmental explanation is that bread yeast and man have a common ancestor, perhaps two billion years ago. And so we see that not only are all men brothers, but men and yeast cells, too, are at least close cousins, to say nothing about men and gorillas or rhesus monkeys. It is the duty of scientists to dispel ignorance of such relationships.
'The Social Responsibilities of Scientists and Science', The Science Teacher (1933), 33, 15.
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You can't possibly be a scientist if you mind people thinking that you're a fool.
Character Wonko the Sane in So Long And Thanks For All The Fish (1985), collected in The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2002), 587.
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[About research with big particle accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider.] I think the primary justification for this sort of science that we do is fundamental human curiosity. ... It's true, of course, that every previous generation that's made some breakthrough in understanding nature has seen those discoveries translated into new technologies, new possibilities for the human race. That may well happen with the Higgs boson. Quite frankly, at the moment I don't see how you can use the Higgs boson for anything useful.
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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[It] is not the nature of things for any one man to make a sudden, violent discovery; science goes step by step and every man depends on the work of his predecessors. When you hear of a sudden unexpected discovery—a bolt from the blue—you can always be sure that it has grown up by the influence of one man or another, and it is the mutual influence which makes the enormous possibility of scientific advance. Scientists are not dependent on the ideas of a single man, but on the combined wisdom of thousands of men, all thinking of the same problem and each doing his little bit to add to the great structure of knowledge which is gradually being erected.
Concluding remark in Lecture ii (1936) on 'Forty Years of Physics', revised and prepared for publication by J.A. Ratcliffe, collected in Needham and Pagel (eds.), Background to Modern Science: Ten Lectures at Cambridge Arranged by the History of Science Committee, (1938), 73-74. Note that the words as prepared for publication may not be verbatim as spoken in the original lecture by the then late Lord Rutherford.
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[Regarding evolution believers:] Their business is not with the possible, but the actual—not with a world which might be, but with a world that is. This they explore with a courage not unmixed with reverence, and according to methods which, like the quality of a tree, are tested by their fruits. They have but one desire—to know the truth. They have but one fear—to believe a lie.
'Scientific Use of the Imagination', Discourse Delivered Before the British Association at Liverpool, (16 Sep 1870). Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 2, 134.
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[The surplus of basic knowledge of the atomic nucleus was] largely used up [during the war with the atomic bomb as the dividend.] We must, without further delay restore this surplus in preparation for the important peacetime job for the nucleus - power production. ... Many of the proposed applications of atomic power - even for interplanetary rockets - seem to be within the realm of possibility provided the economic factor is ruled out completely, and the doubtful physical and chemical factors are weighted heavily on the optimistic side. ... The development of economic atomic power is not a simple extrapolation of knowledge gained during the bomb work. It is a new and difficult project to reach a satisfactory answer. Needless to say, it is vital that the atomic policy legislation now being considered by the congress recognizes the essential nature of this peacetime job, and that it not only permits but encourages the cooperative research-engineering effort of industrial, government and university laboratories for the task. ... We must learn how to generate the still higher energy particles of the cosmic rays - up to 1,000,000,000 volts, for they will unlock new domains in the nucleus.
Addressing the American Institute of Electrical Engineering, in New York (24 Jan 1946). In Schenectady Gazette (25 Jan 1946),
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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

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