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Speculation Quotes (44 quotes)


A man who is all theory is like “a rudderless ship on a shoreless sea.” ... Theories and speculations may be indulged in with safety only as long as they are based on facts that we can go back to at all times and know that we are on solid ground.
In Nature's Miracles: Familiar Talks on Science (1899), Vol. 1, Introduction, vii.
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After five years' work I allowed myself to speculate on the subject, and drew up some short notes; these I enlarged in 1844 into a sketch of the conclusions, which then seemed to me probable: from that period to the present day I have steadily pursued the same object. I hope that I may be excused for entering on these personal details, as I give them to show that I have not been hasty in coming to a decision.‎
From On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1861), 9.
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Any opinion as to the form in which the energy of gravitation exists in space is of great importance, and whoever can make his opinion probable will have, made an enormous stride in physical speculation. The apparent universality of gravitation, and the equality of its effects on matter of all kinds are most remarkable facts, hitherto without exception; but they are purely experimental facts, liable to be corrected by a single observed exception. We cannot conceive of matter with negative inertia or mass; but we see no way of accounting for the proportionality of gravitation to mass by any legitimate method of demonstration. If we can see the tails of comets fly off in the direction opposed to the sun with an accelerated velocity, and if we believe these tails to be matter and not optical illusions or mere tracks of vibrating disturbance, then we must admit a force in that direction, and we may establish that it is caused by the sun if it always depends upon his position and distance.
Letter to William Huggins (13 Oct 1868). In P. M. Hannan (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1995), Vol. 2, 1862-1873, 451-2.
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As he sat alone in a garden, he [Isaac Newton in 1666, age 24] fell into a speculation on the power of gravity; that as this power is not found sensibly diminished at the remotest distance from the centre of the earth to which we can rise, neither at the tops of the loftiest buildings, nor even on the summits of the highest mountains, it appeared to him reasonable to conclude that this power must extend much further than was usually thought: why not as high as the moon? said he to himself; and if so, her motion must be influenced by it; perhaps she is retained in her orbit thereby.
View of Newton's Philosophy (1728), preface. In William Whewell, History of the Inductive Sciences (1847), Vol. 2, 166. Pemberton's narrative is based on firsthand conversations with Newton himself.
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Astronomers and physicists, dealing habitually with objects and quantities far beyond the reach of the senses, even with the aid of the most powerful aids that ingenuity has been able to devise, tend almost inevitably to fall into the ways of thinking of men dealing with objects and quantities that do not exist at all, e.g., theologians and metaphysicians. Thus their speculations tend almost inevitably to depart from the field of true science, which is that of precise observation, and to become mere soaring in the empyrean. The process works backward, too. That is to say, their reports of what they pretend actually to see are often very unreliable. It is thus no wonder that, of all men of science, they are the most given to flirting with theology. Nor is it remarkable that, in the popular belief, most astronomers end by losing their minds.
Minority Report: H. L. Mencken's Notebooks (1956), Sample 74, 60.
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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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Cosmology, for centuries consisting of speculation based on a minimum of observational evidence and a maximum of philosophical predilection, became in the twentieth century an observational science, its theories now subject to verification or refutation to a degree previously unimaginable.
Opening sentence in 'Philosophical Values and Observation in Edwin Hubble's Choice of a Model of the Universe', Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences (1982), 13, No. 1, 41.
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Geology differs as widely from cosmogony, as speculations concerning the creation of man differ from history.
Principles of Geology (1830-3), Vol. 1, 4.
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His subject is the “Origin of Species,” & not the origin of Organization; & it seems a needless mischief to have opened the latter speculation at all.
In a letter to Fannie Wedgwood (13 Mar 1860), in Harriet Martineau's Letters to Fanny Wedgwood (1983), 189.
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I also ask you my friends not to condemn me entirely to the mill of mathematical calculations, and allow me time for philosophical speculations, my only pleasures.
Letter to Vincenzo Bianchi (17 Feb 1619). Johannes Kepler Gesammelte Werke (1937- ), Vol. 17, letter 827, l. 249-51, p. 327.
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I am a firm believer, that without speculation there is no good and original observation.
Letter to A. R. Wallace (22 Dec 1857). In Alfred Russel Wallace and Sir James Marchant (ed.), Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters and Reminiscences (1916), 109.
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I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can.
Letter to Asa Gray (22 May 1860). In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters (1892), 236.
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I have read various articles on the fourth dimension, the relativity theory of Einstein, and other psychological speculation on the constitution of the universe; and after reading them I feel as Senator Brandegee felt after a celebrated dinner in Washington. "I feel," he said, "as if I had been wandering with Alice in Wonderland and had tea with the Mad Hatter."
Quoted in Michio Kaku, Einstein's Cosmos: How Albert Einstein's vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and Time (2005), 118-119. [Note:Brandegee's original remark was in the context of politics after a White House conference with President Wilson (Feb 1917), and unrelated to Einstein's theory.]
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I venture to maintain, that, if the general culture obtained in the Faculty of Arts were what it ought to be, the student would have quite as much knowledge of the fundamental principles of Physics, of Chemistry, and of Biology, as he needs, before he commenced his special medical studies. Moreover, I would urge, that a thorough study of Human Physiology is, in itself, an education broader and more comprehensive than much that passes under that name. There is no side of the intellect which it does not call into play, no region of human knowledge into which either its roots, or its branches, do not extend; like the Atlantic between the Old and the New Worlds, its waves wash the shores of the two worlds of matter and of mind; its tributary streams flow from both; through its waters, as yet unfurrowed by the keel of any Columbus, lies the road, if such there be, from the one to the other; far away from that Northwest Passage of mere speculation, in which so many brave souls have been hopelessly frozen up.
'Universities: Actual and Ideal' (1874). In Collected Essays (1893), Vol. 3, 220.
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In all speculations on the origin, or agents that have produced the changes on this globe, it is probable that we ought to keep within the boundaries of the probable effects resulting from the regular operations of the great laws of nature which our experience and observation have brought within the sphere of our knowledge. When we overleap those limits, and suppose a total change in nature's laws, we embark on the sea of uncertainty, where one conjecture is perhaps as probable as another; for none of them can have any support, or derive any authority from the practical facts wherewith our experience has brought us acquainted.
Observations on the Geology of the United States of America (1817), iv-v.
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In the last two months I have been very busy with my own mathematical speculations, which have cost me much time, without my having reached my original goal. Again and again I was enticed by the frequently interesting prospects from one direction to the other, sometimes even by will-o'-the-wisps, as is not rare in mathematic speculations.
Letter to Ernst Weber (21 May 1843). Quoted in G. Waldo Dunnington, Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science (2004), 416.
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It always bothers me that according to the laws as we understand them today, it takes a computing machine an infinite number of logical operations to figure out what goes on in no matter how tiny a region of space and no matter how tiny a region of time ... I have often made the hypothesis that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement, that in the end the machinery will be revealed and the laws will turn out to be simple. ... But this speculation is of the same nature as those other people make - 'I like it','I don't like it' - and it is not good to be too prejudiced about these things.
The Character of Physical Law (1965), 57. Quoted in Brian Rotman, Mathematics as Sign (2000), 82.
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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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Medicine has been defined to be the art or science of amusing a sick man with frivolous speculations about his disorder, and of tampering ingeniously, till nature either kills or cures him.
Anonymous
In Tryon Edwards (ed.), A Dictionary of Thoughts (1908), 339.
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My final remark to young women and men going into experimental science is that they should pay little attention to the speculative physics ideas of my generation. After all, if my generation has any really good speculative ideas, we will be carrying these ideas out ourselves.
'Reflections on the Discovery of the Tau Lepton', Nobel Lecture (8 Dec 1995). In Nobel Lectures: Physics 1991-1995 (1997), 193.
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No branches of historical inquiry have suffered more from fanciful speculation than those which relate to the origin and attributes of the races of mankind. The differentiation of these races began in prehistoric darkness, and the more obscure a subject is, so much the more fascinating. Hypotheses are tempting, because though it may be impossible to verify them, it is, in the paucity of data, almost equally impossible to refute them.
Creighton Lecture delivered before the University of London on 22 Feb 1915. Race Sentiment as a Factor in History (1915), 3.
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Not only did he teach by accomplishment, but he taught by the inspiration of a marvelous imagination that refused to accept the permanence of what appeared to others to be insuperable difficulties: an imagination of the goals of which, in a number of instances, are still in the realms of speculation.
Testimonial on Tesla's 75th birthday, Tesla Museum, Belgrade, Serbia. In Margaret Cheney, Tesla: Man Out of Time (2001), 86.
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Now that we locate them [genes] in the chromosomes are we justified in regarding them as material units; as chemical bodies of a higher order than molecules? Frankly, these are questions with which the working geneticist has not much concern himself, except now and then to speculate as to the nature of the postulated elements. There is no consensus of opinion amongst geneticists as to what the genes are—whether they are real or purely fictitious—because at the level at which the genetic experiments lie, it does not make the slightest difference whether the gene is a hypothetical unit, or whether the gene is a material particle. In either case the unit is associated with a specific chromosome, and can be localized there by purely genetic analysis. Hence, if the gene is a material unit, it is a piece of chromosome; if it is a fictitious unit, it must be referred to a definite location in a chromosome—the same place as on the other hypothesis. Therefore, it makes no difference in the actual work in genetics which point of view is taken. Between the characters that are used by the geneticist and the genes that his theory postulates lies the whole field of embryonic development.
'The Relation of Genetics to Physiology and Medicine', Nobel Lecture (4 Jun 1934). In Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1922-1941 (1965), 315.
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Of all regions of the earth none invites speculation more than that which lies beneath our feet, and in none is speculation more dangerous; yet, apart from speculation, it is little that we can say regarding the constitution of the interior of the earth. We know, with sufficient accuracy for most purposes, its size and shape: we know that its mean density is about 5½ times that of water, that the density must increase towards the centre, and that the temperature must be high, but beyond these facts little can be said to be known. Many theories of the earth have been propounded at different times: the central substance of the earth has been supposed to be fiery, fluid, solid, and gaseous in turn, till geologists have turned in despair from the subject, and become inclined to confine their attention to the outermost crust of the earth, leaving its centre as a playground for mathematicians.
'The Constitution of the Interior of the Earth, as Revealed by Earthquakes', Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society (1906), 62, 456.
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One of the earliest questions asked by an intelligent child is: “What is this made of?” “What is that made of?” And the answer is generally more or less satisfactory. For example, if the question relates to butter, the reply may be, “From cream.” It may be explained, besides, that when cream is beaten up, or churned, the butter separates, leaving skim-milk behind. But the question has not been answered. The child may ask, “Was the butter in the milk before it was churned? or has it been made out of the milk by the churning?” Possibly the person to whom the question is addressed may know that the milk contained the butter in the state of fine globules, and that the process of churning breaks up the globules, and causes them to stick together. The original question has not really been answered; and indeed it is not an easy one to reply to. Precisely such questions suggested themselves to the people of old, and they led to many speculations.
Opening paragraph of Modern Chemistry (1900, rev. 1907), 1.
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Philosophy is regarded by many as inseparable from speculation. ... Philosophy has proceeded from speculation to science.
The Rise of Scientific Philosophy (1951), vii.
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Realizing how often ingenious speculation in the complex biological world has led nowhere and how often the real advances in biology as well as in chemistry, physics and astronomy have kept within the bounds of mechanistic interpretation, we geneticists should rejoice, even with our noses on the grindstone (which means both eyes on the objectives), that we have at command an additional means of testing whatever original ideas pop into our heads.
'The Rise of Genetics', Science (1932), 1969, 264.
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Speculations apparently the most unprofitable have almost invariably been those from which the greatest practical applications have emanated.
In Dionysius Lardner (ed.), Cabinet Cyclopaedia, Vol 1, Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (1831), 11.
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Such philosophy as shall not vanish in the fume of subtile, sublime, or delectable speculation but shall be operative to the endowment and betterment of man’s life.
As quoted on title page of Lancelot Hogben, Science for the Citizen (1938).
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Surgical knowledge depends on long practice, not from speculations.
'Letter to Borghese' (27 Jul 1689), in H. B. Adelmann (ed.), The Correspondence of Marcello Malpighi (1975), Vol. 4, 1486.
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The determination of the average man is not merely a matter of speculative curiosity; it may be of the most important service to the science of man and the social system. It ought necessarily to precede every other inquiry into social physics, since it is, as it were, the basis. The average man, indeed, is in a nation what the centre of gravity is in a body; it is by having that central point in view that we arrive at the apprehension of all the phenomena of equilibrium and motion.
A Treatise on Man and the Development of his Faculties (1842). Reprinted with an introduction by Solomon Diamond (1969), 96.
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The end of knowledge is power ... the scope of all speculation is the performing of some action or thing to be done.
De Corp, EW, i, I, 1, 6, 7. In Jean Hampton, Hobbes and the social contract tradition (1988), 46. Hampton indicates that this quote is 'after Bacon' and in a footnote, that 'Hobbes was Bacon's secretary as a young man and had philosophical discussions with him (Aubrey 1898, 331).'
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The history of this paper suggests that highly speculative investigations, especially by an unknown author, are best brought before the world through some other channel than a scientific society, which naturally hesitates to admit into its printed records matters of uncertain value. Perhaps one may go further and say that a young author who believes himself capable of great things would usually do well to secure the favourable recognition of the scientific world by work whose scope is limited and whose value is easily judged, before embarking upon higher flights.
'On the Physics of Media that are Composed of Free and Perfectly Elastic Molecules in a State of Motion', Philosophical Transactions (1892), 183, 560.
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The hybridoma technology was a by-product of basic research. Its success in practical applications is to a large extent the result of unexpected and unpredictable properties of the method. It thus represents another clear-cut example of the enormous practical impact of an investment in research which might not have been considered commercially worthwhile, or of immediate medical relevance. It resulted from esoteric speculations, for curiosity’s sake, only motivated by a desire to understand nature.
From Nobel Lecture (8 Dec 1984), collected in Tore Frδngsmyr and ‎Jan Lindsten (eds.), Nobel Lectures in Physiology Or Medicine: 1981-1990 (1993), 267-268.
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The publication of the Darwin and Wallace papers in 1858, and still more that of the 'Origin' in 1859, had the effect upon them of the flash of light, which to a man who has lost himself in a dark night, suddenly reveals a road which, whether it takes him straight home or not, certainly goes his way. That which we were looking for, and could not find, was a hypothesis respecting the origin of known organic forms, which assumed the operation of no causes but such as could be proved to be actually at work. We wanted, not to pin our faith to that or any other speculation, but to get hold of clear and definite conceptions which could be brought face to face with facts and have their validity tested. The 'Origin' provided us with the working hypothesis we sought.
'On the Reception of the Origin of Species'. In F. Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Including an Autobiographical Chapter (1888), Vol 2, 197.
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The smallest particles of matter were said [by Plato] to be right-angled triangles which, after combining in pairs, ... joined together into the regular bodies of solid geometry; cubes, tetrahedrons, octahedrons and icosahedrons. These four bodies were said to be the building blocks of the four elements, earth, fire, air and water ... [The] whole thing seemed to be wild speculation. ... Even so, I was enthralled by the idea that the smallest particles of matter must reduce to some mathematical form ... The most important result of it all, perhaps, was the conviction that, in order to interpret the material world we need to know something about its smallest parts.
[Recalling how as a teenager at school, he found Plato's Timaeus to be a memorable poetic and beautiful view of atoms.]
In Werner Heisenberg and A.J. Pomerans (trans.) The Physicist's Conception of Nature (1958), 58-59. Quoted in Jagdish Mehra and Helmut Rechenberg, The Historical Development of Quantum Theory (2001), Vol. 2, 12. Cited in Mauro Dardo, Nobel Laureates and Twentieth-Century Physics (2004), 178.
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The strongest arguments prove nothing so long as the conclusions are not verified by experience. Experimental science is the queen of sciences and the goal of all speculation.
Opus Tertium. Translation as stated in Popular Science (Aug 1901), 337.
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The vortex theory [of the atom] is only a dream. Itself unproven, it can prove nothing, and any speculations founded upon it are mere dreams about dreams.
Quoted in Henry Smith Williams, 'Some Unsolved Scientific Problems', Harper's New Monthly Magazine (1899-1900), Vol. 100, 779.
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Thus science strips off, one after the other, the more or less gross materialisations by which we endeavour to form an objective image of the soul, till men of science, speculating, in their non-scientific intervals, like other men on what science may possibly lead to, have prophesied that we shall soon have to confess that the soul is nothing else than a function of certain complex material systems.
Review of B. Stewart and P. G. Tait's book on Paradoxical Philosophy, in Nature, 19, 1878. In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 760.
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To speculate without facts is to attempt to enter a house of which one has not the key, by wandering aimlessly round and round, searching the walls and now and then peeping through the windows. Facts are the key.
'Heredity: 1. The Behaviour of the Chromosomes', in Essays in Popular Science (1926, 1945), 1-2.
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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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Why speculate when you can calculate?
Anonymous
Aphorism mentioned in Australian Federal Court, 1991 Federal Court Reports (1992), Vol. 31, 378.
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With increasing distance, our knowledge fades, and fades rapidly. Eventually, we reach the dim boundary—the utmost limits of our telescopes. There, we measure shadows, and we search among ghostly errors of measurement for landmarks that are scarcely more substantial. The search will continue. Not until the empirical resources are exhausted, need we pass on to the dreamy realms of speculation.
The Realm of the Nebulae (1936), 202.
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“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth...” Whatever our speculations may be in regard to a “beginning,” and when it was, it is written in the rocks that, like the animals and plants upon its surface, the earth itself grew.
In Nature's Miracles: Familiar Talks on Science (1899), Vol. 1, 1.
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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