For most of human history,
we could only watch, like bystanders, the beautiful dance of Nature. But
today, we are on the cusp of an epoch-making transition, from being passive
observers of Nature to being active choreographers of Nature. The Age of
Discovery in science is coming to a close, opening up an Age of Mastery.
- Michio Kaku, "Visions - How science will revolutionize the 21st century"
Scientific and technological
progress themselves are value-neutral. They are just very good at doing
what they do. If you want to do selfish, greedy, intolerant and violent
things, scientific technology will provide you with by far the most efficient
way of doing so. But if you want to do good, to solve the world's problems,
to progress in the best value-laden sense, once again, there is no better
means to those ends than the scientific way.
- Richard Dawkins
Science without conscience
is the ruin of the world.
- Francois Rabelais
We scientists have
fantasies of being uniquely qualified to make great discoveries. Alas,
reality is cruel: most of us are replaceable. For the vast majority of
scientific contributions, if scientist X hadn't achieved it that year,
scientist Y would have achieved the same result or something very similar
- Jared Diamond
The world is so exquisite,
with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves
with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better,
it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look Death in the eye and to
be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life
- Carl Sagan, "Cosmos"
Scientists can routinely
predict a solar eclipse, to the minute, a millennium in advance. You can
go to the witch doctor to lift the spell that causes your pernicious anaemia,
or you can take Vitamin B12. If you want to save your child from polio,
you can pray or you can inoculate. If you're interested in the sex of your
unborn child, you can consult plumb-bob danglers all you want . . . but
they'll be right, on average, only one time in two. If you want real accuracy
. . . try amniocentesis and sonograms. Try science.
- Carl Sagan, "The Demon Haunted World"
is one of the greatest triumphs of humankind.
- Raymond Tallis, "Hippocratic Oaths: Medicine and its Discontents"
have become our public intellectuals, to whom we look for explanations
and solutions. If there are any answers to life’s greatest questions, or
if there are other questions that we should be asking instead, it is science
that will provide them.
- Minette Marrin, in Britain's "The Telegraph"
The most important
scientific revolutions all include, as their only common feature, the dethronement
of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions
about our centrality in the cosmos.
- Stephen Jay Gould, "Dinosaur in a Haystack"
The phrase 'contrary
to all expectations' rings through the story of the progress of human knowledge.
It was 'contrary to all expectations' that the Earth was found to revolve
around the sun, and not the other
way round, and that
a mould growing in one of Dr. Alexander Fleming's dishes was found to be
capable of destroying bacteria. When in 1989 the spacecraft Voyager 2 got
close enough to the planet Naptune to
take detailed pictures
of the surface, they were 'contrary to all expectations'.
- ATQ Stewart, "The Shape of Irish History"
It is always useful
to remember that science is not designed to produce absolute knowledge,
eternally true once found; for the most part it simply pushes back the
frontier of that vast realm called ignorance.
- Jake Page
Je cherche à
- Jacques Monod
A common man marvels
at uncommon things; a wise man marvels at the commonplace.
It seems to be a general
rule that sciences begin their development with the unusual. They have
to develop considerable sophistication before they interest themselves
in the commonplace.
- Ralph Linton
The known is finite,
the unknown infinite. Intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst
of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation
is to reclaim a little more land.
- TH Huxley, 1887
Wonder... and not any
expectation of advantage from its discoveries, is the first principle which
prompts mankind to the study of Philosophy, of that science which pretends
to lay open the concealed connections that unite the various appearances
- Adam Smith, "The
History of Astronomy", (1795)
Only human beings guide
their behaviour by a knowledge of what happened before they were born and
a pre-conception of what may happen after they are dead; thus only humans
find their way by a light that illuminates more than the patch of ground
they stand on.
- PB and JS Medawar,
"The Life Science"
As long as men are free
to ask what they must; free to say what they think; free to think what
they will; freedom can never be lost and science can never regress.
- J. Robert Oppenheimer
If the world were to end
tomorrow and we could choose to save only one thing as the explanation
and memorial to who we were, then we couldn't do better than the Natural
History Museum, although it wouldn't contain a single human. The systematic
Linnean order, the vast inquisitiveness and range of collated knowledge
and beauty would tell all that is the best of us.
- AA Gill, "The London Times"
Beyond a critical point
in a finite space, freedom diminishes as numbers increase. This is as true
of humans in the finite space of a planetary ecosystem as it is of gas
molecules in a sealed flask. The human question is not how many can possibly
survive within the system, but what kind of existence is possible for those
who do survive.
- Frank Herbert,
There are three great
themes in science in the twentieth century : the atom, the computer, and
- Harold Varmus,
Director, US National Institute of Health
In science, "fact" can
only mean "confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold
provisional assent." I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow,
but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.
- Stephen Jay Gould
Philosophy is a game with
objectives and no rules. Mathematics is a game with rules and no objectives.
Mathematics may humbly
help in the market-place, but it also reaches to the stars.
- Herbert Westren
Mahematics is the language
in which God has written the universe.
The good Christian should
beware of mathematicians and all those who make empty prophecies. The danger
already exists that mathematicians have made a covenant with the devil
to darken the spirit and confine man in the bonds of Hell.
- Saint Augustine
It is certain that the
real function of art is to increase our self-consciousness; to make us
more aware of what we are, and therefore of what the universe in which
we live really is. And since mathematics, in its own way, also performs
function, it is not only aesthetically charming but profoundly significant.
It is an art, and a great art.
- John W.N. Sullivan
The great tragedy of Science
: the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact
~ Thomas Huxley
Science is facts; just
as houses are made of stones, so is science made of facts; but a pile of
stones is not a house and a collection of facts is not necessarily science.
- Henri Poincaire
Do not worry about your
difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater
- Albert Einstein.
The effort to understand
the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little
above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy
- Steven Weinberg
The brain is a three pound
mass you can hold in your hand that can conceive of a universe a hundred
billion light-years across.
- Marian C. Diamond
If the brain were so simple
we could understand it, we would be so simple we couldn’t.
- Lyall Watson
The dreams stuff is made of.
- Stephen Wright.
In science, it doesn't
matter if you're wrong, as long as you're not stupid. In business, it doesn't
matter if you're stupid, so long as you're not wrong.
"All scientists know of
colleagues whose minds are so well equipped with the means of refutation
that no new idea has the temerity to seek admittance. Their contribution
to science is accordingly very small."
- Peter Medawar
Back in 1989, a year after
the publication of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, a brilliant
physicist at a Cambridge college confessed to me that he had given up on
page 28. "I couldn't make head nor tail of it," he said with total candour.
The comment suggests that those who enjoyed Hawking's book the most probably
understood it the least.
- John Cornwell, "The London Times"
We live in a society
exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone
knows anything about science and technology.
- Carl Sagan
The Inventions Room.
- One 6 year old's description of a science lab
It is unworthy of excellent
men to lose hours like slaves in the labour of calculation which could
safely be relegated to anyone else if machines were used.
- Gottfried Von Leibniz
The machine is a mission
of redemption : to enable man to produce at a maximum with a minimum of
- Arthur Coelho, of Manuas (1880)
In the design of fission
reactors man was not an innovator but an unwitting imitator of nature.
- George A. Cowan,
"A Natural Fission Reactor"
For a successful technology,
reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be
- Richard P. Feynman
The simplest schoolboy
is now familiar with truths for which Archimedes would have sacrificed
- Ernest Renan (1823-92),
French philosopher and theologian
The real goal of physics
is to come up with an equation that could explain the universe but still
be small enough to fit on a T-shirt
- Leon Lederman
Life results from the
non-random survival of randomly varying replicators.
- Richard Dawkins comes up with a Biology one...
As an adolescent I
aspired to lasting fame, I craved factual certainty, and I thirsted for
a meaningful vision of human life — so I became a scientist. This is like
becoming an archbishop so you can meet girls.
- Matt Cartmill.
One week ago I said that
cloning of mammals was years away... it is fun to be alive at this point
- Anders Sandberg
It is difficult beyond
description to conceive that space can have no end; but it is more difficult
to conceive an end. It is difficult beyond the power of man to conceive
an eternal duration of what we call time; but it is more impossible to
conceive a time when there shall be no time.
- Thomas Paine, The
Age of Reason (Part 1)
It is not possible to
be ignorant of the end of things if we know their beginning.
- Thomas Aquinas,
A very small cause, which
escapes us, determines a considerable effect which we cannot ignore, and
we say that this effect is due to chance.
- Henri Poincare,
reconciling chance and determinism with long term unpredictability, "Science
et Methode", (1908)
Chaos theory, a more recent
invention, is equally fertile ground for those with a bent for abusing
sense. It is unfortunately named, for 'chaos' implies randomness. Chaos
in the technical sense is not random at all. It is completely determined,
but it depends hugely, in strangely hard-to-predict ways, on tiny differences
in initial conditions.
- Richard Dawkins
In order to make an
apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.
- Carl Sagan
Demon mean knowledge in
Greek, especially about the material world. Science means knowledge in
Latin. A jurisdictional dispute is exposed, even if we look no further
- Carl Sagan, "The
Demon Haunted World", p.110
The claim is also sometimes
made that science is as arbitrary or irrational as all other claims to
knowledge, or that reason itself is an illusion. As Ethan Allen said "Those
who invalidate reason ought seriously to consider whether they argue against
reason with or without reason; if with reason, then they establish the
principle that they are labouring to dethrone. If they argue without reason,
which they must do, in order to be consistent with themselves, they are
out of reach of rational conviction, nor do they deserve a rational argument.
- Carl Sagan, "The
Demon Haunted World", p.243
Nature ( the Art whereby
God hath made and governes the World ) is by the Art of man, as in many
other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make am Artificial
Animal. For seeing life is but a motion of Limbs, the beginning whereof
is in some principall part withing; why may we not say, that all Automata
( Engines that move themselves by springs and wheels as doth a watch )
have an artificial life? For what is the Heart, but a Spring; and the Nerves,
but so many Strings; and the Joynts, but so many Wheels giving motion to
the whole Body, such as was intended by the Artificer? Art goes yet further,
imitating that Rationall and most excellent worke of Nature, Man. For by
Art is created that great Leviathan called a Common-Wealth or State which
is but an Artificall Man; though of greater stature and strength than the
- Thomas Hobbes,
"Leviathan", 1651, ( The First Sociobiologist? )
"And I am infinitely saddened
to find myself suddenly surrounded in the west by a sense of terrible loss
of nerve, a retreat from knowledge into - into what? Into Zen Buddhism;
into falsely profound questions about; Are we not really just animals at
the bottom; into extra-sensory perception and mystery. They do not lie
along the line of what we are now able to know if we devote ourselves to
it: an understanding of man himself. We are nature's unique experiment
to make the rational intelligence sounder than reflex. Knowledge is our
destiny. Self-knowledge, at last bring together the experience of the arts
and the explanations of science, waits ahead of us."
- Jacob Bronowski
"The price of these failures
has been a loss of moral consensus, a greater sense of helplessness about
the human condition. ... The intellectual solution to the first dilemma
can be achieved by a deeper and more courageous examination of human nature
that combines the findings of biology with those of the social sciences."
- EO Wilson
Imagine that killers
have invaded your neighborhood. They're in your house, and you and your
neighbors are hiding in the cellar. Your baby starts to cry. If you had
to press your hand over the baby's face till it stopped fighting—if you
had to smother it to save everyone else—would you do it? If you're normal,
you wouldn't, according to a study published last week in Nature. But if
part of your brain were damaged—the ventromedial prefrontal cortex—you
would. In the study, people were given hypothetical dilemmas: Would you
throw a fatally injured person off a lifeboat to save everyone else? Would
you kill a healthy hostage? Most normal people said no. Most people with
VMPC damage said yes.
- William Saletan, "Slate Magazine"
We live in the most
probable of all possible worlds.
- Stephen Hawking, paraphrasing Pangloss
"Maybe I'm being a
bit harsh on philosophers, but they have not been very kind to me... I
have been variously called nominalist, an instrumentalist, a positivist,
a realist, and several other ists. The technique seems refutation by denigration:
If you can attach a label to my approach, you don't have to say what is
wrong with it... I am sure that Einstein, Heisenberg and Dirac didn't worry
about whether they were realists or instrumentalists."
- Steven Hawking
So long as the universe
had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe
is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would
have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for
- Stephen Hawking, "A Brief History of Time"
"With equal passion
I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men.
I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend
the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway about the flux."
- Bertrand Russell
"A habit of basing convictions
upon evidence, and of giving to them only that degree or certainty which
the evidence warrants, would, if it became general, cure most of the ills
from which the world suffers."
- Bertrand Russell
When a honeybee dies it
releases a death pheromone, a characteristic odour that signals the survivors
to remove it from the hive. The corpse is promptly pushed and tugged out
of the hive. The death pheromone is oleic acid. What happens if a live
bee is dabbed with a drop of oleic acid? Then no matter how strapping and
vigourous it might be, it is carried kicking and screaming out of the hive.
- Carl Sagan, "Shadows
of Forgotten Ancestors"
Of course there's more
to Science than just hurting animals, but frankly its the part I like best.
- Scientist, "Dilbert"
Where would we be without
science? Sure, those boffins may have come up with occasionally handy items
such as life-saving medicine, air travel and the internet, but science
is also guilty of some terrible things, like eugenics and Jordan's breasts.
- Ian O'Doherty
announced the existence of a new whole number which lies bet ween 27 and
28. "We don't know why it's there or what it does," says Cambridge mathematician,
Dr. Hilliard Haliard, "we only know that it doesn't behave properly when
put into equations, and that it is divisible by six, though only once."
- On The Hour
Anyone who cannot cope
with mathematics is not fully human. At best he is a tolerable subhuman
who has learned to wear shoes, bathe, and not make messes in the house.
- Robert Heinlein,
"Time Enough for Love"
Anyone who is not shocked
by quantum theory does not understand it.
- Niels Bohr
What is the origin of
the urge, the fascincation that drives physicists, mathematicians, and
presumably other scientists as well? Psychoanalysis suggests that it is
sexual curiosity. You start by asking where little babies come from, one
thing leads to another, and you find yourself preparing nitroglycerine
or solving differential equations. This explanation is somewhat irritating,
and therefore probably basically correct.
- David Ruelle, "Chance
I guess I'm just an old
mad scientist at bottom. Give me an underground laboratory, half a dozen
atom-smashers, and a beautiful girl in a diaphanous veil waiting to be
turned into a chimpanzee, and I care not who writes the nation's laws.
- S.J. Perelman,
"Captain Future, Block That Kick!"
There are no physicists
in the hottest parts of hell, because the existence of a "hottest part"
implies a temperature difference, and any marginally competent physicist
would immediately use this to run a heat engine and make some other part
of hell comfortably cool. This is obviously impossible.
- Richard Davisson
All cats die. Socrates
is dead. Therefore Socrates is a cat.
- Eugene Ionesco,
Like the ski resort of
girls looking for husbands and husbands looking for girls, the situation
is not as symmetrical as it might seem.
- Alan McKay
This theory is worthless...
this isn't right. This isn't even wrong.
- Wolfgang Pauli,
about a paper submitted by a physicist colleague
There are three kinds
of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
- Benjamin Disraeli
We demand guaranteed rigidly
defined areas of doubt and uncertainty.
- Douglas Adams
There has always been
more living scientists than dead ones. If the rate of scientist growth
remains the same until until 2100, everyone will be a scientist.
This is a one line proof...
if we start sufficiently far to the left.
- Cambridge University
In a manner which matches
the fortuity, if not the consequence, of Archimedes' bath and Newton's
apple, the [3.6 million year old] fossil footprints were eventually noticed
one evening in September 1976 by the palaeontologist Andrew Hill, who fell
while avoiding a ball of elephant dung hurled at him by the ecologist David
- John Reader, "Missing
Links: The Hunt for Earliest Man"
Some authors unaware of
the acute international shortage of parentheses, sqaunder them, and write
sqrt (9), not sqrt 9, which of course means the same thing.
-What the study of
Logic can do to an otherwise only slightly insane undergraduate
"Why is it that you physicists always require so much expensive equipment?
Now the Department of Mathematics requires nothing but money for paper,
pencils, and erasers... and the Department of Philosophy is better still.
It doesn't even ask for erasers.
- Told by Isaac Asimov
One thing they don't tell
you about doing experimental physics is that sometimes you must work under
adverse conditions... like a state of sheer terror.
- W.K. Hartmann
"I used to have this professor
at Oxford... he used to sort of scare the underclassmen with this story
about how the world would eventually be eviscerated by technology. You
see, it was inevitable that a compound would be created which he referred
to as the 'Anti-God'. It was like an accelerated mutator or sort of, you
know, like a, an unstoppable force of destructive power, that would just
lay waste to everything - to buildings and parks and streets and children
and ice cream parlors, you know? So whenever I see, like, a rogue organization
willing to spend this amount of money on a mystery tech, I always assume...
it's the Anti-God. End-of-the-world kinda stuff, you know... But no, I
don't have any idea what it is. I was just speculating."
- Benji Dunn, "Mission Impossible 3"
Professor Gorden Newell
threw another shutout in last week's Chem. Eng. 130 midterm. Once again
a student did not receive a single point on his exam. Newell has now tossed
5 shutouts this quarter. Newell's earned exam average has now dropped to
a phenomenal 30%.
If God had meant for
us to use the metric system, we would have been born with ten fingers and
Topics is be covered
in future issues include proof by: ( rather than by induction ) Intimidation,
Gesticulation (handwaving), "Try it; it works", Constipation (I was just
sitting there and ...), Blatant assertion, Changing all the 2's to n's,
Mutual consent, Lack of a counterexample, and "It stands to reason"
Lots of us have a question
or an issue that has bothered us for ages. Mine involves dead birds. Where
do they all go? Why aren’t the trees surrounded by the corpses of our feathered
friends once their time is up? And wouldn’t you think that from time to
time one would read about people suffering a sharp blow to the head after
a crow or something similar had suffered a mid-flight coronary? Yet, it
does not appear to happen. Why not? Has evolution managed to make fallen
birds instantly biodegradable?
- Tim Hames, "The Times" [my theory is cats]
"I recently went to
my staircase at Clare College, Cambridge and there were women there! There
have been a lot of convincing studies recently about the loss of productivity
in the Western male. It may be that entertainment culture now is so engaging
that it keeps people satisfied. We didn't have that. Science was much more
fun than listening to the radio. When you are 16 or 17 and in that inherently
semi-lonely period when you are deciding whether to be an intellectual,
many now don't bother."
- James Watson, recalling how interesting science was in his youth
# From "Does Anything
Eat Wasps and 101 Other Questions" by New Scientist Magazine
Q: Does behading hurt?
A: It depends on how
skillful the executioner is. When Mary, Queen of Scots was executed in
1587, it took three strokes to remove her head. In the end, a knife was
used to carve through the gristle and bone. Generally, it appears to take
around 30 seconds to lose consciousness after decapitation. We know this
from the French Revolution and the liberal use of the guillotine. The condemned
were asked to blink if they were still alert after their heads had been
removed from their body. Records show that it took between 20 and 30 seconds
for the eyes to stop blinking.
Q: Can a man live on
A: Beer is made from
malted barley, which makes it high in vitamins. One pint can provide more
than 5% of the daily recommended intake of vitamins B9, B6 and B2. This
is almost the same as a slice of brown bread. However, beer is low in vitamins
A, C and D and is a diuretic and will eventually leave you dehydrated.
Beer is healthier than spirits.
Q: Does anything eat
A: Wasp-eaters are
called vespivores and the most famous vespivore is a bird called the bee-eater.
CAUTION: The Mass of
This Product Contains the Energy Equivalent of 85 Million Tons of TNT per
Net Ounce of Weight.
HANDLE WITH EXTREME
CARE: This Product Contains Minute Electrically Charged Particles Moving
at Velocities in Excess of Five Hundred Million Miles Per Hour.
THIS IS A 100% MATTER
PRODUCT: In the Unlikely Event That This Merchandise Should Contact Antimatter
in Any Form, a Catastrophic Explosion Will Result.
A biologist, a statistician,
a mathematician and a computer scientist are on a photo-safari in africa.
They drive out on the savannah in their jeep, stop and scout the horizon
with their binoculars.
- Niels Ull Jacobsen,
U. of Copenhagen
# THE DRAGON IN MY GARAGE
The biologist : "Look!
There's a herd of zebras! And there, in the middle : A white zebra! It's
fantastic ! There are white zebra's ! We'll be famous !"
The statistician :
"It's not significant. We only know there's one white zebra."
: "Actually, we only know there exists a zebra, which is white on one side."
The computer scientist
: "Oh, no! A special case!"
"A fire-breathing dragon
lives in my garage"
You look inside the
garage and see no dragon.
"I neglected to mention
that she's an invisible dragon"
You propose spreading
flour on the floor to capture the footprints.
"Good idea - but this
dragon floats in the air"
Then you'll use an
infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.
"Good idea, but the
invisible fire is also heatless"
You'll spray paint
the dragon and make her visible.
"Except, she's an
incorporeal dragon and the paint wont stick"
And so on, I counter
every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won't
work. Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal floating
dragon that spits heatless fire and no dragon at all? If there's no way
to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against
it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists? Your inability to invalidate
my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true. Claims that
cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are verdically worthless.
- Carl Sagan, "The
Demon Haunted World", p.160
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