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Monday, 17 November 2014

Curtiosity about scientific discovery

Have you listened with attention?  Are you now free from your doubts and confusion?
Bhagavad Gita, 18:72, in the translation of Eknath Easwaran, Arkana Books, 1985.

In the very beginnings of science,
The parsons, who managed things then,
Being handy with hammer and chisel,
Made gods in the likeness of men;
Till Commerce arose, and at length
Some men of exceptional power
Supplanted both demons and gods
By the atoms, which last to this hour.
— James Clerk Maxwell (1831 - 1879)  (Said to be notes on the address of a president of the British Association to its members.

. . . it were good to divide natural philosophy into the mine and the furnace, and to make two professions or occupations of natural philosophers, some to be pioneers and some smiths; some to dig, and some to refine and hammer.
— Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626), Of the Advancement of Learning (1605), Oxford University Press World's Classics, 1969, p. 106.

I would propose that the chemists (or ex-chemists like myself) of my generation when they are introduced to each other should each show the palm of the right hand: towards the centre, where the tendon that flexes the middle finger crosses what palm readers call the life line, the majority of them have a small professional, highly specific scar whose origin I will explain. . . .Plugs of cork or rubber were used for retention; when (a frequent thing, in order, for example, to connect the flask to a cooler) you had to slip a piece of glass bent at a straight angle into a pierced plug, hold it and turn it while pushing, the glass often broke, and the sharp stump plunged into your hand.
— Primo Levi, 'The Mark of the Chemist' in Other People's Trades, page 86.

Nobody will object to an ardent experimentalist boasting of his measurements and rather looking down on the 'paper and ink' physics of his theoretical friend, who on his part is proud of his lofty ideas and despises the dirty fingers of the other.
— Max Born (1882 - 1970), Experiment and Theory in Physics, 1943.

We've got no money, so we've got to think.
— Lord Rutherford, quoted by Sir Edward Appleton, 1956 Reith lectures.

. . . in a few years, all great physical constants will have been approximately estimated, and that the only occupation which will be left to men of science will be to carry these measurements to another place of decimals.
— James Clerk Maxwell (1813 - 1879), Scientific papers, 1871, (Maxwell was describing this view in preparation to attacking it).

It is the greatest discovery in method which science has made that the apparently trivial, the merely curious, may be clues to an understanding of the deepest principles of nature.
  Sir George Paget Thomson (1892- ????)

It follows, though the point will require extended discussion, that a discovery like that of oxygen or X-rays does not simply add one more item to the population of the scientist's world.  Ultimately it has that effect, but not until the professional community has re-evaluated traditional experimental procedures, altered its conception of entities with which it has long been familiar, and, in the process, shifted the network of theory through which it deals with the world.
— Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, second edition, 1970, p. 7.

It was Bertrand Russell who declared that the great discovery of the twentieth century was the technique of the suspended judgment.  A. N. Whitehead, on the other hand, explained how the great discovery of the nineteenth century was the discovery of the technique of discovery.  Namely, the technique of starting with the thing to be discovered and working back, step by step, as on an assembly line, to the point at which it is necessary to start in order to reach the desired object.  In the arts this meant starting with the effect and then inventing a poem, painting, or building that would have just that effect and no other.
— Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, Sphere Books, 1967, 73.

The creative impulse seems not to wish to produce finished work.  It certainly deserts us half-way after the idea is born; and if we go on, creation is work.
— Clarence Day (no other details, sorry)

Yet out of pumps grew the discussions about Nature's abhorrence of a vacuum, and then it was discovered that Nature does not abhor a vacuum, but that air has weight; and that notion paved the way for the doctrine that all matter has weight, and that the force which produces weight is co-extensive with the universe — in short, to the theory of universal gravitation and endless force.
— Thomas Henry Huxley (1825 - 1895), On the Advisableness of Improving Natural Knowledge, 1866.

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