random_title.gif (5793 bytes)

The quotations which follow are in no special order and have no particular theme other than being about science or scientists, or about something else but equally well applicable to science. I have not set out to collect such quotations any more than any other sort, hence their disparate nature. If you like such collections, try 'A Random Walk in Science' and 'More Random Walks in Science', both excellent.

Heaven is hotter than Hell.

The temperature of Heaven can be rather accurately computed from available data. Our authority is the Bible: Isaiah 30:26 reads, Moreover the light of the Moon shall be as the light of the Sun and the light of the Sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days. Thus Heaven receives from the Moon as much radiation as we do from the Sun and in addition seven times seven (forty-nine) times as much as the Earth does from the Sun, or fifty times in all. The light we receive from the Moon is a ten-thousandth of the light we receive from the sun, so we can ignore that. With these data we can compute the temperature of Heaven. The radiation falling on Heaven will heat it to the point where the heat lost by radiation is just equal to the heat lost by radiation. Using the Stefan-Boltzmann fourth power law for radiation and where H is the temperature of Heaven, E that of the Earth - 300 K - we have

(H/E)4   =  50.

This gives H as 798 K or 525oC.

The exact temperature of Hell cannot be computed but it must be less than 444.6oC, the temperature at which brimstone or sulphur changes from a liquid to a gas. Revelations 21:8: But the fearful, and unbelieving . . . shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone. A lake of molten brimstone means that its temperature must be below the boiling point, which is 444.6oC.

We have, then, temperature of Heaven, 525oC. Temperature of Hell, less than 445oC. Therefore, Heaven is hotter than Hell.

Applied Optics, 11, A14 (1972).


It was absolutely marvellous 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.

Viktor Weisskopf, Amer. J Phys. 45, 422 (1977)

It is much easier to make measurements than to know exactly what you are measuring.

JWN Sullivan (1928)

..both..were at last absolutely convinced of the truth of what they had regarded as mere supposition. We behave almost in the same way....a scholar...begins timidly, moderately, he begins by asking a most modest question. He immediately quotes such and such ancient writers, and as soon as he detects some kind of hint or something he believes to be a hint, he at once becomes emboldened and self-confident, talks to the writers of antiquity like an old friend, puts questions to them and supplies the answers himself, forgetting completely that he has begun with a timid supposition; he already believes that he can see it all, that everything is clear and his argument is concluded with the words: 'So that is how it was  -  so it is from this point of view that we look at the subject.' Then he proclaims it ex cathedra, for all to hear, and the newly-discovered truth is sent travelling all over the world, gathering followers and disciples.

Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls.

'Just the place for a Snark!', the Bellman cried
As he landed his crew with care,
Supporting each man at the top of the tide
With a finger entwined in his hair.

'Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice.
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice.
What I tell you three times is true.

Lewis Carroll (C L Dodgson), The Hunting of the Snark.

(The two previous quotations embody a favourite theme - that if you repeat something often enough or with sufficient conviction, it will be believed. Scientists are not immune to this.)

But I desire to point out that this seems to be one of the many cases in which the admitted accuracy of mathematical processes is allowed to throw a wholly inadmissible appearance of authority over the results obtained by them.
Mathematics may be compared to a mill of exquisite workmanship, which grinds you stuff of any degree of fineness; but nevertheless what you get out depends on what you put in, and as the greatest mill in the world will not extract wheatflour from peascods, so pages of formulae will not get a definite result out of loose data.

T H Huxley.

(This was written as the result of JJ Thomson's erroneous estimate of the age of the Earth based on cooling calculations; these were made before the heating effect of natural radioactivity was known.)

...he concluded with a panegyric uopn modern Chemistry...

'The ancient teachers of this science,' said he, 'promised impossibilities and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted and that the elixir of life is a chimaera. But the philosophers, whose hands seem only to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or the crucible, have indeed perfoemd miracles. hey penetrate into the recesses of nature and show how she works in her hiding-places. They ascend into the heavens; they have discovered how the blood circulates, and the nature of the air we breathe. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquakes, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows.

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.

Chemistry is that branch of natural philosophy in which the greatest improvements have been made and may be made - but I have not neglected the other branches of science. A man would make but a very sorry chemist if he attended to that department of human knowledge alone. If your wish is to become really a man of science and not merely a petty experimenter, I should advise you to apply to every branch of natural philosophy, including mathematics.

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.

I would gladly do without this word [science] if I could….A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that anything that calls itself ‘science’ probably isn’t – for example Christian science or military science, and possibly even cognitive science or social science….To many minds it suggests an arcane infallibility.

What we are all aiming at in intellectual disciplines is knowledge and understanding. There is only knowledge and understanding, whether we have it in mathematics, literary criticism, history, physics or philosophy. Some disciplines are more systematic than others, and we might want to reserve the word ‘science’ for them.

J Searle, Minds, brains and science.


The personal element cannot be eliminated from the consideration of works written by living persons for living persons. We want to know who is who – whom we can depend upon to have no other end than the making things clear to himself and his readers, and whom we should mistrust as having an ulterior aim on which he is more intent than the furthering of our better understanding……When we find a man concealing worse than nullity of meaning under sentences that sound plausibly enough, we should distrust him as much as we should a fellow-traveller whom we caught trying to steal our watch.

Samuel Butler, The Deadlock in Darwinism.

Not long ago I expressed the view that the lack of general education and of thorough training in chemistry of quite a few professors of chemistry was one of the causes of the deterioration of chemical research in Germany. Will anyone to whom my worries seem exaggerated please read, if he can, a recent memoir by a Herr van’t Hoff on ‘The Arrangements of Atoms in Space’, a document crammed to the hilt with the outpourings of a childish fantasy. This Dr J H van’t Hoff, employed by the Veterinary College of Utrecht, has, so it seems, no taste for accurate chemical research. He finds it more convenient to mount his Pegasus (evidently taken from the stables of the Veterinary College) and to announce how, on his daring flight to Mount Parnassus, he saw the atoms arranged in space.

Hermann Kolbe (1877).

This lacerating type of criticism was not uncommon in the 18th and 19th centuries. G S Ohm was rendered incapable of working as a result of the vitriol heaped on his work which led to Ohm’s Law. Kolbe was no chemical slouch; he was one of the foremost chemists of his day. Unfortunately he was dead by 1900, when J H van’t Hoff received the first Nobel Prize in chemistry – for his work on the shapes of molecules!

..a significant fraction of the ordinary scientific literature in any field is concerned with essentially irrational theories put forward by a few well-established scholars who have lost touch with reality.

E Ziman, Some Pathologies of the Scientific Life.


The following are from Primo Levi, The Periodic Table.

…nobody wasted many words teaching us how to protect ourselves from acids, caustics, fires, and explosions; it appeared that the Institute’s rough and ready morality counted on the progress of natural selection to pick out those among us most qualified for physical and professional survival.


…one must distrust the almost-the-same, the practically identical, the approximate…The differences can be small, but they can lead to radically different consequences, like a railroad’s switch points….


…a chemist without a nose is in for trouble.


…it happens also in chemistry as in architecture that ‘beautiful’ edifices, that is symmetrical and simple, are also the most sturdy.


…like a gloomy Analytical Chemist; always seeming to say, after ‘Chablis, Sir?’ – ‘You wouldn’t if you knew what it was made of.’

Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend.

Man is educated only by virtue of absorbing constantly influences that determine consciousness in his mind….

Benito Perez Galdos, Fortunata and Jacinta.

…only Chemistry brought them both to a halt. They would gaze at each other blankly and she would end up by getting him to memorise the formulae, having observed that only pharmacists understand these things, and that anyway it all boils down to whether you add more or less water.

Benito Perez Galdos, Fortunata and Jacinta.

‘A decent Chemist is twenty times more useful than any poet,’ interrupted Bazarov.

Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons.

…..two or three young students of Chemistry, who cannot distinguish oxygen from hydrogen but are brimming over with destructive criticism and self-conceit….

Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons.

Home Page