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Quotes, vol. 1

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Donald E. Simanek

May 19, 1995, 3:00:00 AM5/19/95
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It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.
Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead
of theories to suit facts.

- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), British physician and

Shall I refuse my dinner because I do not fully understand the
process of digestion?

- Oliver Heaviside (1850-1925), English physicist.

The most incomprehensible thing about our universe is that it
can be comprehended.

- Albert Einstein (1879-1955), U. S. physicist, born in

My suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we
suppose, but queerer than we _can_ suppose.

- John Burden Sanderson Haldane (1892-1964) English

The mind likes a strange idea as little as the body likes a
strange protein and resists it with similar energy. It would not
perhaps be too fanciful to say that a new idea is the most
quickly acting antigen known to science. If we watch ourselves
honestly we shall often find that we have begun to argue against
a new idea even before it has been completely stated.

- Wilfred Batten Lewis Trotter (1872-1939) English surgeon.

The dispassionate intellect, the open mind, the unprejudiced
observer, exist in an exact sense only in a sort of
intellectualist folk-lore; states even approaching them cannot
be reached without a moral and emotional effort most of us
cannot or will not make.

- Wilfred Trotter

One curious result of this inertia, which deserves to rank among
the fundamental 'laws' of nature, is that when a discovery has
finally won tardy recognition it is usually found to have been
anticipated, often with cogent reasons and in great detail.

- F. C. S. Schiller

The hypothesis we accept ought to explain phenomena which we
have observed. But they ought to do more than this: our
hypotheses ought to _foretell_ phenomena which have not yet been

- William Whewell (1794-1866) English mathematician,

It is a popular delusion that the scientific enquirer is under
an obligation not to go beyond generalisation of observed
facts...but anyone who is practically acquainted with scientific
work is aware that those who refuse to go beyond the facts,
rarely get as far.

- Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-95) English biologist.

We see only what we know.

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet,

We know very little, and yet it is astonishing that we know so
much, and still more astonishing that so little knowledge can
give us so much power.

- Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) English philosopher,

Physics is very muddled again at the moment; it is much too hard
for me anyway, and I wish I were a movie comedian or something
like that and had never heard anything about physics!

- Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958) Austrian Physicist in the US.
(Nobel Prize, 1935) From a letter to R. Kronig, 25 May 1925.

I do not like it, and I am sorry I ever had anything to do with

- Erwin Schrdinger (1887-1961) Austrian physicist (Nobel
Prize, 1933) Speaking of quantum mechanics.

Those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum
mechanics cannot possibly have understood it.

- Niels Henrik David Bohr (1885-1962) Danish physicist.

If anybody says he can think about quantum problems without
getting giddy, that only shows he has not understood the first
thing about them.

- Niels Bohr (1885-1962)

Penetrating so many secrets, we cease to believe in the
unknowable. But there it sits nevertheless, calmly licking its

- H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) American journalist, writer. In:
_Minority Report_ (1956)

An ocean traveler has even more vividly the impression that the
ocean is made of waves than that it is made of water.

- Arthur S. Eddington (1882-1944) English astronomer and
physicist. In: _The Nature of the Physical World_, Cambridge

The chess-board is the world; the pieces are the phenomena of
the universe; the rules of the game are what we call the laws of
Nature. The player on the other side is hidden from us. We know
that his play is always fair, and patient. But also we know, to
our cost, that he never overlooks a mistake, or makes the
smallest allowance for ignorance.

- Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-95) English biologist.

The rotating armatures of every generator and motor in this age
of electricity are steadily proclaiming the truth of the
relativity theory to all who have ears to hear.

- Leigh Page (1884-1952) American physicist. In: _American
Journal of Physics_, _43_, 330 (1975)

I have also a paper afloat, with an electromagnetic theory of
light, which, till I am convinced to the contrary, I hold to be
great guns.

- James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) Scottish physicist. In a
letter to C. H. Cay, 5 January 1865.

If any student comes to me and says he wants to be useful to
mankind and go into research to alleviate human suffering, I
advise him to go into charity instead. Research wants real
egotists who seek their own pleasure and satisfaction, but find
it in solving the puzzles of nature.

- Albert Szent-Gyrgyi (1893-1986) US biochemist.

Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think
what nobody else has thought.

- Albert Szent-Gyrgi (1893-1986) US biochemist.

It would be as useless to perceive how things `actually look' as
it would be to watch the random dots on untuned television

- Marvin Minsky

More than ever, the creation of the ridiculous is almost
impossible because of the competition it receives from reality.

- Robert A. Baker

Why are things as they are and not otherwise?

- Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) German astronomer.

What's the go of that? What's the particular go of that?

- James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) Scottish physicist. Comments
made as a child expressing his curiousity about mechanical
things and physical phenomena.

What's the go of it?

- James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) Scottish physicist.

What is is what must be.

- Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz (1646-1716) German
philosopher and mathematician.

We are in the ordinary position of scientists of having to be
content with piecemeal improvements: we can make several things
clearer, but we cannot make anything clear.

- Frank Plumpton Ramsay

One had to be a Newton to notice that the moon is falling, when
everyone sees that it doesn't fall.

- Paul Valry.

Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night,
God said: "Let Newton be!", and all was light.

- Alexander Pope (1688-1744) English poet.


Albert Einstein (1879-1955), U. S. physicist, born in Germany.

I have deep faith that the principle of the universe will be
beautiful and simple.

I know little about nature and hardly anything about men.

The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It
is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true
art and true science.

One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our science,
measured against reality, is primitive and childlike- and yet it
is the most precious thing we have.

The most incomprehensible thing about our universe is that it
can be comprehended.

The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot.

But in physics I soon learned to scent out the paths that led to
the depths, and to disregard everything else, all the many
things that clutter up the mind, and divert it from the
essential. The hitch in this was, of course, the fact that one
had to cram all this stuff into one's mind for the examination,
whether one liked it or not.

Newton, forgive me.

Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a
pathological criminal.

Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge in the field of
Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.

Oh, that Einstein, always skipping lectures...
I certainly never would have thought he could do it.

- Herman Minkowski


You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it
within himself.

- Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) Italian physicist and

Wheeler's first moral principle:

Never make a calculation until you know the answer: make an
estimate before every calculation, try a simple physical
argument (symmetry! invariance! conservation!) before every
derivation, guess the answer to every puzzle. Courage: no one
else needs to know what the guess is. Therefore make it quickly,
by instinct. A right guess reinforces this instinct. A wrong
guess brings the refreshment of surprise. In either case life as
a spacetime expert, however long, is more fun.!

- Wheeler, John A. and Edwin F. Taylor. Spacetime Physics,
Freeman, 1966. Page 60.

Every experiment proves something. If it doesn't prove what you
wanted it to prove, it proves something else.

- Prof. Anon

Introductory physics courses are taught at three levels: physics
with calculus, physics without calculus, and physics without

- Prof. Anon


The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he
studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it
because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would
not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing, life
would not be worth living.

- Jules Henri Poincare (1854-1912) French mathematician.

Science is not formal logic - it needs the free play of the mind
in as great a degree as any other creative art. It is true that
this is a gift which can hardly be taught, but its growth can be
encouraged in those who already posses it.

- Max Born (1882-1970) German Physicist (Nobel Prize, 1954).

One thing that makes the adventure of working in our field
particularly rewarding, especially in attempting to improve the
theory, is that... a chief criterion for the selection of a
correct hypothesis... seems to be the criterion of beauty,
simplicity, or elegance.

- Murray Gell-Mann (1929- ) U.S. Physicist (Nobel Prize,
1969) "Particles and Principles"

It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.
Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead
of theories to suit facts.

- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) British physician and

But are we sure of our observational facts? Scientific men are
rather fond of saying pontifically that one ought to be quite
sure of one's observational facts before embarking on theory.
Fortunately those who give this advice do not practice what they
preach. Observation and theory get on best when they are mixed
together, both helping one another in the pursuit of truth. It
is a good rule not to put overmuch confidence in a theory until
it has been confirmed by observation. I hope I shall not shock
the experimental physicists too much if I add that it is also a
good rule not to put overmuch confidence in the observational
results that are put forward _until they have been confirmed by

- Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington (1882-1944) English astronomer
and physicist.

Seek simplicity and distrust it.

- Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) English mathematician and

Every honest researcher I know admits he's just a professional
amateur. He's doing whatever he's doing for the first time. That
makes him an amateur. He has sense enough to know that he's
going to have a lot of trouble, so that makes him a

- Charles Franklin Kettering (1876-1958) U. S. Engineer and

The scientist is a practical man and his are practical (i.e.,
practically attainable) aims. He does not seek the *ultimate*
but the *proximate*. He does not speak of the last analysis but
rather of the next approximation. His are not those beautiful
structures so delicately designed that a single flaw may cause
the collapse of the whole. The scientist builds slowly and with
a gross but solid kind of masonry. If dissatisfied with any of
his work, even if it be near the very foundations, he can
replace that part without damage to the remainder. On the whole
he is satisfied with his work, for while science may never be
wholly right it certainly is never wholly wrong; and it seems to
be improving from decade to decade.

- G. N. Lewis. Quoted in _Stochiometry_ by Leonard K. Nash.
Addison-Wesley 1966. p. vii.)


Happy is he who gets to know the reasons for things.

- Virgil (70-19 BCE) Roman poet.

To engage in experiments on heat was always one of my most
agreeable employments.

- Benjamin Thompson (Count Rumford) (1753-1814) English
physicist and diplomat, born in US.

The joy of discovery is certainly the liveliest that the mind of
man can ever feel.

- Claude Bernard (1813-78) French physiologist.


Basic research is what I am doing when I don't know what I am

- Werner Von Braun (1912- )

Science is not formal logic - it needs the free play of the mind
in as great a degree as any other creative art. It is true that
this is a gift which can hardly be taught, but its growth can be
encouraged in those who already posses it.

- Max Born (1882-1969)

One thing that makes the adventure of working in our field
particularly rewarding, especially in attempting to improve the
theory, is that... a chief criterion for the selection of a
correct hypothesis... seems to be the criterion of beauty,
simplicity, or elegance.

- Murray Gell-Mann, "Particles and Principles," _Physics
Today_, _17_, 11, Nov 1964, p. 22.

Every honest researcher I know admits he's just a professional
amateur. He's doing whatever he's doing for the first time. That
makes him an amateur. He has sense enough to know that he's
going to have a lot of trouble, so that makes him a

- Charles F. Kettering (1876-1958) US engineer and inventor.


It is unworthy of excellent men to lose hours like slaves in the
labor of calculation which could be relegated to anyone else if
machines were used.

- Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz (1646-1716) German
philosopher and mathematician.


This only is certain, that there is nothing certain; and nothing
more miserable and yet more arrogant than man.

- Pliny ("The Elder") (23-79) Roman naturalist.

Only one thing is certain- that is, nothing is certain. If this
statement is true, it is also false.

- Ancient paradox

The gods did not reveal from the beginning
All things to us; but in the course of time
Through seeking, men found that which is better.

But as for certain truth, no man has known it,
Nor will he know it; neither of the gods,
Nor yet of all the things of which I speak.
And even if by chance he were to utter
The final truth, he would himself not know it;
For all is but a woven web of guesses.

- Xenophanes (c570-c480 BCE) Greek philosopher.

We know nothing in reality; for truth lies in an abyss.

- Democritus (c420 BCE) Greek philosopher.

None of us knows anything, not even whether we know or do not
know, nor do we know whether not knowing and knowing exist, nor
in general whether there is anything or not.

- Metrodorus of Chios (c. 4th century BCE) Greek philosopher.

All we know of the truth is that the absolute truth, such as it
is, is beyond our reach.

- Nicholas of Cusa (1401-64) German cardinal, mathematician,
philosopher. In: _De Docta Ignorantia_ (Learned Ignorance)

The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting we
come to the question, and by seeking we may come upon the truth.

- Pierre Abelard (1079-1142), French philosopher, theologian.

When truth is evident, it is impossible for parties and factions
to rise. There never has been a dispute as to whether there is
daylight at noon.

- Francis Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694-1778), French writer.
_Philosophical Dictionary_, 1764.

I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore and
diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a
prettier shell than ordinary whilst the great ocean of truth
lay all undiscovered before me.

- Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) English physicist,

Whenever truth stands in the mind unaccompanied by the evidence
upon which it depends, it cannot properly be said to be ap-
prehended at all.

- William Godwin (1756-1836) English political philosopher,
writer. _An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice_, 1793.

True science teaches us to doubt and, in ignorance, to refrain.

- Claude Bernard (1813-78) French physiologist.

A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.

- Oscar Wilde (1856-1900)

There are no whole truths: all truths are half-truths. It is
trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil.

- Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) English mathematician and

It is not the possession of truth, but the success which attends
the seeking after it, that enriches the seeker and brings
happiness to him.

- Max Planck (1858-1947) German physicist. (Nobel prize, 1918)

The Paradox of Life:

A bit beyond perception's reach
I sometimes believe I see
that Life is two locked boxes, each
containing the other's key.

- Piet Hein, _Grooks 3_


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.

- Roger Bacon (1214?-1294?) English philosopher, scientist.

I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking
about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it;
but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in
numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind.

- Lord Kelvin (William Thomson, 1st Baron) (1824-1907) English
physicist and mathematician. In: _Popular Lectures and
Addresses_, London, 1889, v. I, p. 73. See also: _Life of Lord
Kelvin_, by S. P. Thompson, 1910, V. 2, p. 792.

If an experiment requires statistical analysis to establish a
result, then one should do a better experiment.

- Ernest Rutherford (1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson) (1871-

No effect that requires more than 10 percent accuracy in
measurement is worth investigating.

- Walther Nernst (1864-1941) German physicist, chemist. (Nobel
prize, 1920)

To define it rudely but not inaptly, engineering is the art of
doing that well with one dollar which any bungler can do with
two after a fashion.

- Arthur M. Wellington, _The Economic Theory of Railway

In these days, a man who says a thing cannot be done is quite
apt to be interrupted by some idiot doing it.

- Elbert Green Hubbard (1865-1915) US author, editor, printer.

A great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.

- Walter Gagehot

Whenever you look at a piece of work and you think the fellow
was crazy, then you want to pay some attention to that. One of
you is likely to be, and you had better find out which one it
is. It makes an awful lot of difference.

- Charles F. Ketering

Basic research is what I am doing when I don't know what I am

- Wernher Von Braun (1912- ) German space scientist.

There ain't no rules around here! We're trying to accomplish

- Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) US inventor.

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent

-- Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) US inventor.

No problem can stand the assault of sustained thinking.

-- Francis Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694-1778), French

Chance favors the prepared mind.

-- Louis Pasteur (1822-95) French chemist and bacteriologist.


Nobody knows why, but the only theories which work are the
mathematical ones.

- Michael Holt, in "Mathematics in Art."

Strange as it may sound, the power of mathematics rests on its
evasion of all unnecessary thought and on its wonderful saving
of mental operations.

- Ernst Mach (1838-1916) Austrian physicist.

To talk about communication theory without communicating its
real mathematical content would be like endlessly telling a man
about a wonderful composer, yet never letting him hear an
example of the composer's music.

- John Robinson Pierce (1910- ) US electrical engineer. In:
_Symbols, Signals and Noise_, Harper. p. x.


In 1650 Bishop Ussher dated the creation from the genealogy
given in the Bible at 4004 B.C.; for a long time (even for some
people today) this was accepted as "gospel truth." However, if
you accept a miracle such as this, what's wrong with creation 5
minutes ago? It would be scarcely more difficult for the Creator
to create all of us sitting here, with our memories of events
that never really happened, with our worn shoes that were never
really new, with spots of soup that were never really spilled on
our ties, and so on. Such a beginning is logically possible, but
extremely hard to believe!

- Thornton Leigh Page (1913- ) US Astrophysicist. _Stars
and Galaxies_. Prentice-Hall

Science is the record of dead religions.

- Oscar Wilde (Fingal O'Flahertie Wills) (1854-1900) Irish

There are no creeds in mathematics.

- Peter F. Drucker


At 90 miles drove Eddie Shawn
The motor stopped, but Ed kept on.

- Anon

There was a young lady named Bright,
Whose speed was far faster than light.
She left one day
In a relative way,
And returned home the previous night!

- Anon

I am sitting here 93 million miles from the sun on a rounded
rock which is spinning at the rate of 1000 miles an hour... and
my head pointing down into space with nothing between me and
infinity but something called gravity which I can't even
understand, and which you can't even buy any place so as to have
some stored away for a gravityless day...

- Russell Baker

Big whirls have little whirls,
That feed on their velocity;
And little whirls have lesser whirls,
And so on to viscosity.

- Lewis Fry Richardson (1881- ) English physicist,
psychologist. Summarizing his classic paper, _The supply of
Energy From and To Atmospheric Eddies_ (1920)

Not too small
Not too inhomogeneous
Not too homogeneous

- Cornelius Lanczos Physicist (1893- ) Hungarian physicist,

Laws of Thermodynamics:

1. You cannot win.
2. You cannot break even.
3. You cannot stop playing the game.

- Anon

Electricity is of two kinds, positive and negative. The
difference is, I presume, that one comes a little more
expensive, but is more durable; the other is a cheaper thing,
but the moths get into it.

- Stephen Leacock (1869-1944) Canadian humorist, economist.
_Literary Lapses_ (1910)

Two brothers bought a cattle ranch and named it "Focus." When
their father asked why they chose that name, they replied: "It's
the place where the sons raise meat."

- Attributed to Prof. W. B. Pietenpol, Physics Department,
University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado.

There's no system foolproof enough to defeat a sufficiently
great fool.

- Edward Teller, quoted in "Nuclear Reactions", by Joel Davis
in _Omni_, May 1988, p. 46.

It was absolutely marvelous working for Pauli. You could ask
him anything. There was no worry that he would think a
particular question was stupid, since he thought all questions
were stupid.

- Victor Frederick Weisskopf (1908- ) Austrian physicist.


The energy produced by breaking down the atom is a very poor
kind of thing. Anyone who expects a source of power from the
transformation of these atoms is talking moonshine.

- Ernest Rutherford (1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson) (1871-
1937) In 1933, five years before fission was accidentally
discovered by Hahn and Strassman.

Predictions are difficult. Especially when they involve the future.

- Anon


O that the gods would bring to a miserable end such fictitious,
crazy, deformed labours, with which the minds of the studious
are blinded!

- William Gilbert (1544-1603) English physician and physicst.
In _De Magnete_ (1600), a comment on claims of a perpetual
motion machine using magnets.


The leading distinction of magnets is sex... The kind that is
found in Troas is black, and of the female sex, and consequently
destitute of attractive power.

- Pliny ("The Elder") (23-79) Roman naturalist.


To say that a man is made up of certain chemical elements is a
satisfactory description only for those who intend to use him as
a fertilizer.

- Herbert J. Muller

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it is tied
to everything else in the universe.

- John Muir (1838-1914) US naturalist, explorer.

A man must have a certain amount of intelligent ignorance to get

- Charles Franklin Kettering (1876-1958) US engineer and

A man gazing at the stars is proverbially at the mercy of the
puddles in the road.

- Alexander Smith


The sources are many and varied, but three particularly rich
sources of science quotes are documented below.

Hallam, A. _A Revolution in the Earth Sciences from Continental
Drift to Plate Tectonics_. Oxford University Press, 1973.

Alvin Hudson and Rex Nelson, _University Physics_, 2nd ed.,
Saunders, 1990, p. 294.

Weber Robert L. _Random Walks in Science_, Heyden and Son.

- Donald

Dr. Donald E. Simanek Office: 717-893-2079
Prof. of Physics Internet:
Lock Haven University, Lock Haven, PA. 17745 CIS: 73147,2166

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