Haec quippe prima sapientiae clavis definitur assidua scilicet
seu frequens interrogatio ... Dubitando enim ad inquisitionem
venimus; inquirendo veritatem percipimus. [The master key of
knowledge is indeed a frequent and persistent questioning ...
Doubting leads us to inquiry; through inquiry we come to the
[Sic et Non, Prologus, 1130]
The empiricists are like the ant; they only collect and use. The
rationalists resemble the spiders, who make cobwebs out of their own
substance. The scientist is like the bee; it takes a middle course; it
gathers material from the flowers, but adapts it by a power of its own.
[Novum Organum, XCV, 1620]
... but Sir, how pitiable is it to reflect, that although you were so
fully convinced of the benevolence of the Father of Mankind, and of his
equal and impartial distribution of these rights and privileges, which
he hath conferred upon them, that you should at the same time counteract
his mercies, in detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my
brethren, under groaning captivity and cruel oppression, that you should
at the same time be found guilty of that most criminal act, which you
professedly detested in others, with respect to yourselves.
Banneker's August 19, 1791
to Thomas Jefferson, pointing out the contradiction between the
principles of the
Declaration of Independence
and Jefferson's ownership of slaves.
to Banneker, and forwarded Banneker's astronomical almanac with a favorable
to the Marquis de Condorcet, secretary of the Academy of Sciences in
Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)
"One can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always
did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things
before breakfast." [White Queen, Through the Looking Glass, 1872]
Now here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the
same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least
twice as fast as that! [Red Queen, Through the Looking Glass, 1872]
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I
choose it to mean-neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can
make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty,
"which is to be master -- that's all." [Through the Looking Glass, 1872]
The Professor came down, and led the way to where a post had been driven
firmly into the ground. To one side of the post was fastened a chain, with
an iron weight hooked on to the end of it, and from the other side
projected a piece of whalebone, with a ring at the end of it. "This is the
most interesting Experiment" the Professor announced. "It will need time,
I'm afraid: but that is a trifling disadvantage. Now observe. If I were to
unhook this weight, and let go, it would fall to the ground. You do not
Nobody denied it.
"And in the same way, if I were to bend this piece of whalebone round
the post --- thus --- and put the ring over this hook --- thus --- it stays
bent; but, if I unhook it, it straightens itself again. You do not deny
Again, nobody denied it.
"Well, now suppose we left things as they are, for a long time. The force
of the whalebone would get exhausted, you know, and it would stay bent,
even when you unhooked it. Now, why shouldn't the same thing happen with
the weight. The whalebone gets so used to being bent, that it can't
straighten itself any more. Why shouldn't the weight get so used to being
held up, that it can't fall any more? That's what I want to know!"
"That's what we want to know!" echoed the crowd.
"How long must we wait?" grumbled the Emperor.
The Professor looked at his watch. "Well, I think a thousand years will
do to begin with, ..."
[The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll,
Sylvie and Bruno Concluded,
George Washington Carver
Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit
of making excuses.
All my life through, the new sights of nature made me rejoice like a
One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains
to be done.
A mature physicist is puzzled by the circumstance that there are no
absolute phenomena in biology. Everything is time bound and space
bound. The animal or plant or microorganism he is working with is but
a link in an evolutionary chain of changing forms, none of which has
any permanent validity. The organism he is working with is not a
particular expression of an ideal organism, but one thread in the
infinite web of all living forms. The physicist has been reared in a
different atmosphere. The materials and the phenomena he works with
are the same here and now as they were at all times and as they are
now on the most distant stars. He deals with accurately measured
quantities and their casual interrelations and in terms of
sophisticated conceptual schemes. The outstanding feature of the
history of his science is unification.... Such a situation from the
outset diminishes the hope of understanding any one living thing by
itself and the hope of discovering universal laws, the pride and
ambition of physicists. The curiosity remains, though, to grasp more
clearly how the same matter, which in physics and in chemistry
displays orderly and reproducible and relatively simple properties,
arranges itself in the most astounding fashions as soon as it is drawn
into the orbit of the living organism.... If it is true that the
essence of life is the accumulation of experience through the
generations, then one may perhaps suspect that the key problem of
biology, from the physicist's point of view, is how living matter
manages to record and perpetuate its experiences''.
["A Physicist Looks At Biology", 1949]
Now when Heisenberg noticed that, he was really scared.
In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood
by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry,
it's the exact opposite.
Some physicists may be happy to have a set of working rules leading
to results in agreement with observation. They may think that this
is the goal of physics. But it is not enough. One wants to understand
how Nature works.
[Proc. Conf. Perturbative Quantum Chromodynamics 74:129-130, 1981.]
Judge me for my own merits, or lack of them, but do not look
upon me as a mere appendage to this great general or that great
scholar, this star that shines at the court of France or that
famed author. I am in my own right a whole person, responsible
to myself alone for all that I am, all that I say, all that I
do. it may be that there are metaphysicians and philosophers
whose learning is greater than mine, although I have not met
them. Yet, they are but frail humans, too, and have their
faults; so, when I add the sum total of my graces, I confess I
am inferior to no one.
[to Frederick the Great of Prussia]
If I were king...I would redress an abuse which cuts back, as it
were, one half of human kind. I would have women participate in
all human rights, especially those of the mind.
[From the translator's preface to Mandeville's The Fable of the Bees]
I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought,
but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
I think that a particle must have a separate reality independent of the
measurements. That is, an electron has spin, location, and so forth even
when it is not being measured. I like to think that the moon is there
even if I am not looking at it.
I have never belonged wholeheartedly to a country, a state,
nor to a circle of friends, nor even to my own family.
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.
Wonderful as are the laws and phenomena of electricity when made
evident to us in inorganic or dead matter, their interest can
bear scarcely any comparison with that which attaches to the same
force when connected with the nervous system and with life...
[Philosophical Transactions, "Experimental Researches
in Electricity", 1839]
If I could remember the names of all those particles, I'd be a botanist.
Every man has two nations, and one of them is France.
Chaque homme a deux nations et l'une d'elles est la France.
Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.
Your present of an electric tube has put several of us on making
experiments... we have observed some interesting phenomena.
but I have provided
plus a summary statement from her paper with Gosling in the
"Watson-Crick" issue of Nature, and bibliographical information
for some of her scientific papers.
The 1953 April 25 Nature table of contents includes a section
titled "Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids", which contains the
Watson-Crick paper and contributions from M. H. F. Wilkins, A. R.
Stokes, and H. R. Wilson, and from R. E. Franklin and R. G. Gosling.
Each paper addresses, with a different style and degree of certainty,
the double helical nature of DNA.
Thus our general ideas are not inconsistent with the model proposed by
Watson and Crick in the preceding communication.
Franklin, R. E. and R. G. Gosling, Molecular configuration in sodium
thymonucleate, Nature 171:740--741, (April 25 - two pages after the
Watson and Crick paper in the same issue) 1953.
Franklin, R. E. and R. G. Gosling, The structure of sodium thymonucleate
fibres. I. The influence of water content, Acta Cryst. 6:673--677, 1953.
Franklin, R. E. and R. G. Gosling, The structure of thymonucleate fibres.
II. The cylindrically symmetrical Patterson function, Acta Cryst.
Franklin, R. E. and R. G. Gosling, Evidence for a 2-chain helix in
crystalline structure of sodium desoxyribonucleate, Nature 172:156--157,
R. E. Franklin, Tobacco mosaic virus: an application of the method of
isomorphous replacement to the determination of the helical parameters
and radial density distribution," Acta Cryst. 11:213, 1958.
And who can doubt that it will lead to the worst disorders when
minds created free by God are compelled to submit slavishly to
an outside will? When we are told to deny our senses and subject
them to the whim of others? When people devoid of whatsoever
competence are made judges over experts and are granted
authority to treat them as they please? These are the novelties
which are apt to bring about the ruin of commonwealths and the
subversion of the state.
[On the margin of his own copy of Dialogue on the Great
Mathematics began to seem too much like puzzle solving. Physics is puzzle
solving, too, but of puzzles created by nature, not by the mind of man.
For a long time I considered even the craziest ideas about the atomic
nucleus... and suddenly I discovered the truth.
We unmasked the doctrines of objectivity because they threatened our
budding sense of collective historical subjectivity and agency, and we
ended up with one more excuse for not learning any post-Newtonian
["Situated Knowledges", Simians, Cyborgs, and Women, 1991]
Hermann von Helmholtz
Any pride I might have held in my conclusions was perceptibly lessened by
the fact that I knew that the solution of these problems had almost always
come to me as the gradual generalization of favorable examples, by a
series of fortunate conjectures, after many errors.
Scientists study the world as it is; engineers create the world that has
plasma (term coined by Langmuir in 1923)
[H. M. Mott-Smith, Nature, vol. 233, p. 219, 17 September 1971.]
Symptoms of Pathological Science
(from a Colloquium at the Knolls Research Laboratory, December 18, 1953;
transcribed and edited by R. N. Hall; text at Kenneth Steiglitz's web site)
- The maximum effect that is observed is produced by a causative agent of
barely detectable intensity, and the magnitude of the effect is substantially
independent of the intensity of the cause.
- The effect is of a magnitude that remains close to the limit of detectability;
or, many measurements are necessary because of the very low statistical
significance of the results.
- Claims of great accuracy.
- Fantastic theories contrary to experience.
- Criticisms are met by ad hoc excuses thought up on the spur of the
- Ratio of supporters to critics rises up to somewhere near 50% and then falls
gradually to oblivion.
Pierre Simon Laplace
Je n'avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse.
James Clerk Maxwell
...in order to understand the nature of things, we must begin by asking,
not whether a thing is good or bad, [...] but of what kind it is?
And how much is there of it?
The individual is not the exception to a general class but rather the
harbinger of some easily neglected clue that must be deeply respected
You cannot be serious! [To umpire Eddie James at Wimbledon, 1981.]
Otto Hahn in Berlin (who received the Nobel prize for this) to Meitner
in exile in Stockholm (who did not), in December 1938: "Perhaps you can
suggest some fantastic explanation. We understand that it (uranium)
really can't break up into barium...so try and think of some other
possibility. Barium isotopes with much higher atomic weights than 137?
If you can think of anything that might be publishable, then the three of
us would be together in this work after all."
Meitner and Frisch, Nature 143:239-240, 1939. On the basis of
present ideas about the behavior of heavy nuclei, an entirely different
and essentially classical picture of these new disintegration processes
suggests itself. On account of their close packing and strong energy
exchange, the particles in a heavy nucleus would be expected to move in a
collective way which has some resemblance to the movement of a liquid
drop. If the movement is made sufficiently violent by adding energy,
such a drop may divide itself into two smaller drops.
It seems therefore possible that the uranium nucleus has only small
stability of form, and may, after neutron capture, divide itself into two
nuclei of roughly equal size... These two nuclei will repel each other
and should gain a total kinetic energy of c. 200 Mev., as calculated from
nuclear radius and charge. [...] The whole 'fission' process can thus be
described in an essentially classical way, without having to consider
quantum-mechanical 'tunnel effects', which would actually be extremely
small, on account of the large masses involved.
As long as I don't read the newspapers, I feel fine. (June, 1959)
Albert A. Michelson
The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have
all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the
possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new
discoveries is exceedingly remote.... Our future discoveries must be
looked for in the sixth place of decimals. [University of Chicago, 1894]
The ancient covenant is in pieces; man at last knows that he is alone in
the universe's unfeeling immensity, out of which he emerged only by
chance. His destiny is nowhere spelled out, nor is his duty. The kingdom
above or the darkness below: it is for him to choose.
[Chance and Necessity, 1970]
In science, self-satisfaction is death. Personal self-satisfaction is the
death of the scientist. Collective self-satisfaction is the death of the
research. It is restlessness, anxiety, dissatisfaction, agony of mind
that nourish science. [New Scientist, 1976]
Here again it was the quantum theory which came to the rescue.
[Nobel lecture, December, 1921]
Dans les champs de l'observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits
[Lecture, Université de Lille, December, 1854]
Je touchais à des mystères et que le voile qui les couvre
va diminuant de plus en plus. Aussi les nuits me paraissent trop longues.
(I am on the verge of mysteries, and the veil which covers them is
getting thinner and thinner. The nights seem to me too long.)
[La Vie de Pasteur, René Vallery-Radot, 1900]
Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the
torch which illuminates the world.
[Louis Pasteur, Free Lance of Science, René Jules Dubos, 1960]
I am utterly convinced that science and peace will triumph over ignorance
and war, that nations will eventually unite not to destroy but to edify,
and that the future will belong to those who have done the most for the
sake of suffering humanity.
[Louis Pasteur, Free Lance of Science, René Jules Dubos, 1960]
Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal: my strength lies solely
in my tenacity.
There does not exist a category of science to which one can give the name
applied science. There are sciences and the application of sciences, bound
together as the fruit of the tree which bears it.
[Revue Scientifique, 1871]
This paper is so bad, it is not even wrong.
The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas [and throw
the bad ones away].
The outside world is something independent from man, something
absolute, and the quest for the laws which apply to this absolute
appeared to me as the most sublime scientific pursuit in life.
[Scientific Autobiography, and Other Papers, 1949]
Eric Poisson and Werner Israel
A test field in the form of an initially uniform train of waves
propagating into a Kerr-Newman black hole has its crests crowded
together and magnified by gravitational and Doppler blueshifts
that grow without bound at the Cauchy horizon. Such perturbative
results suggest (though they do not prove) that inside a black
hole formed in a generic collapse, an observer falling toward the
inner horizon should be engulfed in a wall of (classically)
infinite density immediately after seeing the entire future
history of the outer universe pass before his eyes in a flash.
[Poisson, E. and W. Israel, Inner-horizon instability and mass
inflation in black holes,
Phys. Rev. Lett. 63:1663-1666, 1989.]
Find out the cause of this effect,
Or rather say, the cause of this defect,
For this effect defective comes by cause.
[Hamlet, Act ii. Sc. 2.]
Thus, the task is, not so much to see what no one has yet seen; but to
think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees.
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
James D. Watson
We have also been stimulated by a knowledge of the general nature of the
unpublished experimental results and ideas of Dr. M. H. F. Wilkins, Dr.
R. E. Franklin, and their co-workers at King's College, London.
(Watson, J. D. and F. H. C. Crick, A structure for deoxyribose nucleic
acid, Nature 171:737--738, 1953.)
One could not be a successful scientist without realizing that,
in contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers
and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not
only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid.
It is essentially immoral not to get it [the human genome sequence] done
as fast as possible.
(Watson, J. D., The New York Times, 1990 June 5, p. C1.)
William of Conches (Guillaume de Conches; Guilelmus de Conchis)
Ignorant themselves of the forces of nature and wanting to have
company in their ignorance, they do not want people to look into
anything. They want us to believe like peasants and to not ask
the reason behind things.
[Philosophia Mundi 1:22, PL 172:56, 1120?]
[They say] "We do not know how this is, but we know that God can
do it." You poor fools, God can make a cow out of a tree, but has
he ever done so? Therefore show some reason why a thing is so, or
cease to hold that it is so.
[Dragmaticon Philosophiae, 1140?]
If a nucleotide sequence can be patented, then can I patent the entries
in a newly discovered dictionary of an ancient language? If an amino
acid sequence can be patented, then can I patent the optical spectrum of
I Before E in English (John Burkardt?)
The apparent perversity of English spelling is occasionally tamed by a
simple rule. For example, I remember learning the famous poem:
I before E,
Except after C.
It didn't take too long for this rule to run into trouble, and I next
had to learn the "revised" version:
I before E,
Except after C,
Or when sounded like A,
As in "neighbor" and "weigh".
But just when we fancied that spelling had become a science, a
prescient foreign geisha woman named Deirdre Oppenheimer came down
from the heights of a glacier, tore off her veil, seized an ancient
financier, and shamed our consciences grievously. "This society is
inefficient!", she inveighed. "I wasted my leisure becoming proficient
in cuneiform hieroglyphs. Either reimburse me with the value of the
Einstein coefficient, or I will drag this man back to my hacienda in
Muncie, wherein he will forfeit his life!"
I feigned interest, but looked for our feisty concierge Neil, whom I
might inveigle into reining in this weird being. But he had gone to
Anaheim, Beijing, Madeira and Taipei with Alexei to shop for a beige
geiger counter. His absenteeism made me feel like queueing for the
exit. The only sound was the neighing of the sheik's eight reindeer,
chewing their edelweiss.
I turned to Sheila, the Budweiser heiress. "Cease your surveillance of
the sleigh and its freight! We must stop the reign of this plebeian
atheist!" I must have hit a vein, because she deigned to put down her
counterfeit kaleidoscope proficiently, albeit only to point out a
weird Klein bottle full of nucleic proteins. "Therein is the skein of
meiosis," she said, "the leitmotif of our species, of seismic
importance to our homogeneity. It would surfeit a meistersinger, a
sovereign, or even an omniscient deity like Poseidon."
Decreeing my obeisance, I offered the paperweight, a Meisterbrau
stein, and a Holstein heifer to the heister. Agreeing that it was
sufficient, she reinstated the old wisenheimer, fleeing with
spontaneity via Boeing to Beirut.
Science Quotation Books (with attributions!)
by Carl C. Gaither and Alma E. Cavazos-Gaither