Why can't somebody give us a list of things that everybody
thinks and nobody says, and another list of things that
everybody says and nobody thinks?
Oliver Wendell Holmes
Nothing puzzles me more than time and space; and yet nothing
troubles me less, as I never think about them.
The system of Descartes... seemed to give a plausible reason
for all those phenomena; and this reason seemed more just, as
it is simple and intelligible to all capacities. But in
philosophy, a student ought to doubt of the things he fancies
he understands too easily, as much as of those he does not
A marveilous newtrality have these things mathematicall, and
also a strange participation between things supernaturall
and things naturall.
Like the ski resort full of girls hunting for husbands
and husbands hunting for girls, the situation is not as
symmetrical as it might seem.
Everything of importance has been said before, by someone
who did not discover it.
Alfred North Whitehead
And Lucy, dear child, mind your arithmetic... What would
life be without arithmetic, but a scene of horrors?
Syndey Smith, 1835
Then assuredly the world was made, not in time, but
simultaneously with time.
There was more imagination in the head of Archimedes than
in that of Homer.
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.
To Thales the primary question was not 'What do we know?'
but 'How do we know it?'.
Time and again an entirely new philosophical movement arises
which finally unmasks the old philosophical problems as pseudo-
problems, and which confronts the wicked nonsense of philosophy
with the good sense of meaningful, positive, empirical science.
And time and again do the despised defenders of 'traditional
philosophy' try to explain to the leaders of the latest
positivistic assault that the main problem of philosophy is
the critical analysis of the appeal to the authority of
'experience' - precisely that 'experience' which every latest
discoverer of positivism is, as ever, artlessly taking for
Karl Popper, 1935
Certainly he who can digest a second or third fluxion need
not, methinks, be squeamish about any point in divinity.
George Berkeley, 1734
If a little knowledge is dangerous, where is the man who has
so much as to be out of danger?
Thomas Henry Huxley, 1877
I never came across one of Laplace's "Thus it plainly appears"
without feeling sure that I had hours of hard work before me to
fill up the chasm and find out how it plainly appears.
Nathanial Bodwitch, 1838
Ignorance is always ready to admire itself. Procure yourself
Nicolas Boileau, 1674
Everyone is free to set up an opinion and to adduce proofs in
support of it. Whether, though, a scientist shall find it worth
his while to enter into serious investigations of opinions so
advanced is a question which his reason and instinct alone can
decide. If these things, in the end, should turn out to be true,
I shall not be ashamed of being the last to believe them.
Ernst Mach, 1883
I do not see, Sir, that it is reasonable for a man to be angry at
another, whom a woman has preferred to him; but angry he is, no
doubt; and he is loath to be angry at himself.
Samuel Johnson, 1763
The mind of man is more intuitive than logical, and comprehends
more than it can coordinate.
Never express yourself more clearly than you think.
The mathematician knows some things, no doubt, but not those things
one usually wants to get from him.
To guess what to keep and what to throw away takes considerable
skill. Actually it is probably merely a matter of luck, but it
looks as if it takes considerable skill.
Richard Feynman, 1965
Nothing is more dangerous than an idea, when it is the only
idea we have.
The vain presumption of understanding everything can have no
other basis than never having understood anything. For anyone
who had ever experienced just once the perfect understanding
of one single thing, and had truly tasted how knowledge is
accomplished, would recognize that of the infinity of other
truths he understands nothing.
A circumstance which has always appeared wonderful to me, is
that such sublime discoveries should have been made by the
sole assistance of a quadrant and a little arithmetic.
Ignoramus, n. A person unacquainted with certain kinds of
knowledge familiar to yourself, and having certain other kinds
that you know nothing about.
Ambrose Bierce, 1890
Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself.
I am large, I contain multitudes.
Walt Whitman, 1870
Examinations are formidable even to the best prepared, for
the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer.
Charles Caleb Colton, 1825
General and abstract ideas are the source of the greatest
errors of mankind.
Hope deceives more men than cunning does.
The second law of thermodynamics holds, I think, the supreme
position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you
that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with
Maxwell's equations - then so much the worse for Maxwell's
equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation,
well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But
if your theory is found to be against the second law of
thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for
it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.
There is frequently more to be learned from the unexpected
questions of a child than the discourses of men, who talk
in a road, according to the notions and prejudices of their
John Locke, 1693
I do hate sums. There is no greater mistake than to call
arithmetic an exact science. There are hidden laws of number
which it requires a mind like mine to perceive. For instance,
if you add a sum from the bottom up, and then again from the
top down, the result is always different.
Mrs. La Touche, 19th c.
A Composition on the Piano
J. S. Bach
From Alexander the Platonic, not frequently nor without necessity
to say to any one, or to write in a letter, that I have no leisure;
nor continually to excuse the neglect of duties required by our
relation to those with whom we live, by alleging urgent occupations.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
The intellectuals' chief cause of anguish are one another's works.
Jacques Barzun, 1959
all ignorance toboggans into know
and trudges up to ignorance again.
The test of interesting people is that subject matter doesn't
Louis Kronenberger, 1954
The perplexity of life arises from there being too many
interesting things in it for us to be interested properly
in any of them.
G. K. Chesterton, 1909
He who serves two masters has to lie to one.
That knowledge which stops at what it does not know, is the
Chuang Tzu, 4th c. B.C.
Intelligence is characterized by a natural incomprehension
Henri Bergson, 1907
Knowledge is two-fold, and consists not only in the affirmation
of what is true, but in the negation of that which is false.
Charles Caleb Colton, 1825
If I cannot brag of knowing something, then I brag of not
R. W. Emerson, 1866
Human beings take more pleasure in their representation than in
the thing, or rather we must say: Human beings take pleasure in
a thing only insofar as they conceive it. It must suit their turn
of mind. And try as they may to raise their way of conceiving
things ever so high above the common run, try as they may to
purify it ever so much, it nevertheless commonly remains but one
way of conceiving things: that is, an attempt to bring many objects
into a certain comprehensible relation that, strictly speaking,
they do not have, and hence the inclination to hypotheses, theories,
terminologies, and systems - which we cannot condemn, since they
must necessarily spring from the organization of our being.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember
from time to time that nothing worth knowing can be taught.
Oscar Wilde, 1891
The first mark of intelligence, to be sure, is not to start
things; the second mark of intelligence is to pursue to the
end what you have started.
Panchatantra, c. 5th c.
The sole cause of all human misery is the inability of people
to sit quietly in their rooms.
Blaise Pascal, 1670
Although to penetrate into the intimate mysteries of nature
and thence to learn the true causes of phenomena is not allowed
to us, nevertheless it can happen that a certain fictive
hypothesis may suffice for explaining many phenomena.
Leonhard Euler, 1748
The shortest path between two truths in the real domain
passes through the complex domain.
Such is the advantage of a well-constructed language that
its simplified notation often becomes the source of profound
P. S. Laplace
Isaac Newton, 1676
I hope that posterity will judge me kindly, not only as to
the things which I have explained, but also as to those
which I have intentionally omitted so as to leave to others
the pleasure of discovery.
Rene Descartes, 1637
It is easier to square a circle than to get round a
A. De Morgan, 1840
There is no excellent beauty that has not some strangeness
in the proportion.
In conclusion I wish to say that in working at the problem
here dealt with I have had the loyal assistance of my friend
and colleague M. Besso, and that I am indebted to him for
several valuable suggestions.
Albert Einstein, 1905
You had, by the way, overestimated the meaningfulness of my
observations again: I was not aware that they had the meaning
that an energy tensor for gravitation was dispensable. If I
understand it correctly, my inadvertent statement now implies
that planetary motion would satisfy conservation laws just by
chance, as it were. What is certain is that I was not aware of
this consequence of my comments and cannot grasp the argument
Michele Besso, 1918
I see I have made myself a slave to Philosophy, but if I get
free of Mr. Linus's business I will resolutely bid adew to it
eternally, excepting for what I do for my private satisfaction
or leave to come out after me. For I see a man must either
resolve to put out nothing new or to become a slave to defend it.
Isaac Newton, 1677
There wanted not some beams of light to guide men in the
exercise of their Stocastick faculty.
John Owen, 1662
I should consider that I know nothing about physics if I were
able to explain only how things might be, and were unable to
demonstrate that they could not be otherwise.
Rene Descartes, 1640
Of all the communities available to us there is not one that
I would devote myself to, except for the society of true
searchers, which has very few living members at any time.
Albert Einstein, 1949
The description of right lines and circles, upon which
geometry is founded, belongs to mechanics. Geometry does
not teach us to draw these lines, but requires them to
Isaac Newton, 1687
I am coming more and more to the conviction that the
necessity of our geometry cannot be demonstrated...geometry
should be ranked, not with arithmetic, which is purely
aprioristic, but with mechanics.
Carl Gauss, 1817
Among the great men who have philosophized about [the action
of the tides], the one who surprised me most is Kepler. He
was a person of independent genius, [but he] became interested
in the action of the moon on the water, and in other occult
phenomena, and similar childishness.
Taking mathematics from the beginning of the world to the time
of Newton, what he has done is much the better half.
Gottfried Leibniz, 1688
I will sette as I doe often in woorke use, a paire of paralleles,
or [twin] lines of one lengthe, thus = , bicause noe 2. thynges,
can be moare equalle.
Robert Recorde, 1557
That, if a straight line falling on two straight lines makes
the interior angles on the same side less than two right angles,
the two straight lines, if produced indefinitely, meet on that
side on which the angles are less than two right angles.
Euclid, c. 300 B.C.
One of the chief peculiarities of this treatise is the doctrine
that the true electric current, on which the electromagnetic
phenomena depend, is not the same thing as the current of conduction,
but that the time-variation of the electric displacement must
[also] be taken into account...
James Clerk Maxwell, 1873
Your manuscript is both good and original. However, that which
is good is not original, and that which is original is not good.
"That is another of your odd notions," said the Prefect, who had
the fashion of calling everything 'odd' that was beyond his
comprehension, and thus lived amid an absolute legion of 'oddities'.
Edgar Allan Poe
I knew when seven justices could not take up a quarrel, but when
the parties were met themselves, one of them thought but of an If,
as, 'If you said so, then I said so;' and they shook hands and
swore brothers. Your If is the only peacemaker; much virtue in If.
I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the
time to make it shorter.
A work of art is never finished, merely abandoned.
Leonardo da Vinci
S'io credessi che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per cio che giammai di questo fondo
non torno vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.
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