If Ideas Had Shapes

A quoteblog ranging from philosophers in bathrobes to galaxy-rises

Tag: Science

Carl Sagan & Ann Druyan – Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1992)

What we are about to say draws on the findings of many sciences. We urge the reader to bear in mind the imperfection of our current knowledge. Science is never finished. It proceeds by successive approximations, edging closer and closer to a complete and accurate understanding of Nature, but it is never fully there. From the fact that so many major discoveries have been made in the last century–even in the last decade–it is clear that we still have far to go.

Lewis Thomas – Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (1983)

Alchemy exists only as a museum piece, an intellectual fossil, so antique that we no longer need be embarrassed by the memory, but the memory is there. Science began by fumbling. It works because the people involved in it work, and work together. They become excited and exasperated, they exchange their bits of information at a full shout, and, the most wonderful thing of all, they keep at one another.


Lewis Thomas – Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (1983)

We cannot say to ourselves, we need this or that sort of technology, therefore we should be doing this or that sort of science. It does not work that way. We will have to rely, as we have in the past, on science in general, and on basic, undifferentiated science at that, for the new insights that will open up the new opportunities for technological development. Science is useful, indispensable sometimes, but whenever it moves forward it does so by producing a surprise; you cannot specify the surprise you’d like. Technology should be watched closely, monitored, criticized, even voted in or out by the electorate, but science itself must be given its head if we want it to work.

“Making Science Work”

Lewis Thomas – Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (1983)

As they see it, science is just at its beginning. The principal discoveries in this century, taking all in all, are the glimpses of the depth of our ignorance about nature.

“Making Science Work”

John Milton – Paradise Lost (1674)

Some say he bid his Angels turne ascanse
The Poles of Earth, twice ten degrees and more

Daniel Dennett – The Mind’s I (1981)

Still, the storytelling side of science is not just peripheral, and not just pedagogy, but the very point of it all. Science properly done is one of the humanities, as a fine physics teacher once said.

from the reflections on Hofstadter’s “A Conversation with Einstein’s Brain”

Daniel Dennett – The Mind’s I (1981)

Science advances haltingly, bumping against the boundaries of the unthinkable: the things declared impossible because they are currently unimaginable.

from the reflections on Hofstadter’s “A Conversation with Einstein’s Brain”

Douglas Adams – The Salmon of Doubt (2002)

But nowadays everybody’s a comedian, even the weather girls and continuity announcers. We laugh at everything. Not intelligently anymore, not with sudden shock, astonishment, or revelation, just relentlessly and meaninglessly. No more rain showers in the desert, just mud and drizzle everywhere, occasionally illuminated by the flash of paparazzi.

Creative excitement has gone elsewhere—to science and technology: new ways of seeing things, new understandings of the universe, continual new revelations about how life works, how we think, how we perceive, how we communicate.

Daniel Dennett – “Thank Goodness!” (2006)

…For another, we now have quite solid grounds (e.g., the recently released Benson study at Harvard) for believing that intercessory prayer simply doesn’t work. Anybody whose practice shrugs off that research is subtly undermining respect for the very goodness I am thanking. If you insist on keeping the myth of the effectiveness of prayer alive, you owe the rest of us a justification in the face of the evidence.

(quoted in The Portable Atheist)

Alan Lightman – Dance for Two (1996)

Pure science deals in truth, and there is no greater gift we can pass to our descendants….

Hundreds of years from now, when automobiles bore us, we will still treasure the discoveries of Kepler and Einstein, along with the plays of Shakespeare and the symphonies of Beethoven.