Alfred Russel Wallace


Of infinity in any of its aspects we can really know nothing, but that it exists and is inconceivable. It is a thought that oppresses and overwhelms. Yet many speak of it glibly as if they knew what it contains, and even use that assumed knowledge as an argument against views that are unacceptable to themselves. To me its existence is absolute but unthinkable—that way madness lies.

Alfred Russel Wallace, Man’s Place in the Universe

I love this book. I can think of few better introductions to cosmology or a discussion of the religion/science issue. Make sure you get one of the editions with the final chapter in, like mine.

mans place wallace

Thomas Henry Huxley


Common sense is science exactly in so far as it fulfills the ideal of common sense; that is, sees facts as they are, or at any rate, without the distortion of prejudice, and reasons from them in accordance with the dictates of sound judgment. And science is simply common sense at its best, that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.

Thomas Henry Huxley

The Crayfish: an Introduction to the Study of Zoölogy (1880), 2. Excerpted in Popular Science (Apr 1880), 16, 789.

Good one from the Hux there.

Carl Sagan

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.
Carl Sagan
In Larry Chang, Wisdom for the Soul: Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing (2006), 561, but without source reference.
What a tease!
I do hear many astronomers say that everyone has waited for s paradigm shift for so long it feels unerving. Maybe they’re finally right; they’re finished?

Lewis Thomas

lewis thomas

My mitochondria comprise a very large proportion of me. I cannot do the calculation, but I suppose there is almost as much of them in sheer dry bulk as there is the rest of me. Looked at in this way, I could be taken for a very large, motile colony of respiring bacteria, operating a complex system of nuclei, microtubules, and neurons for the pleasure and sustenance of their families, and running, at the moment, a typewriter.

Not to mention the vast number of actual bacteria that swarm our bodies, which are 10 times the number of our own native cells. Jeez, do we have any right to call ourselves an animal?

Thomas Browne

Natura nihil agit frustra [Nature does nothing in vain] is the only indisputible axiom in philosophy. There are no grotesques in nature; not any thing framed to fill up empty cantons, and unncecessary spaces.
Religio Medici (1642), Part I, Section 15. In Thomas Browne and Simon Wilkin (Ed.), The Works of Thomas Browne (1852), Vol. 2, 339.
No grotesques in Nature?
Not any thing framed to fill up empty cantons?
(I hope that TOWIE is still going when this gets published or this will make no sense)


Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life; …
‘So careful of the type’, but no.
From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries, ‘A thousand types are gone:
I care for nothing, all shall go’ …
Man, her last work, who seemed so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who rolled the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law—
Tho’ Nature red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shrieked against his creed…
— Lord Alfred Tennyson
In Memoriam A. H. H. (1850), Cantos 56-57.
It’s nice to see that quote un context.

Blaise Pascal

What is man in the midst of nature? A nothing in comparison with the infinite, an all in comparison with nothingness: a mean between nothing and all. Infinitely far from comprehending the extremes, the end of things and their principle are for him inevitably concealed in an impenetrable secret; equally incapable of seeing the nothingness whence he is derived, and the infinity in which he is swallowed up.
Pensées. Collected in Blaise Pascal and O.W. Wright (trans.), The Thoughts, Letters and Opuscules of Blaise Pascal (1859), 160.
Blaise Pascal has the awesomest name. He should have a 1960s cop series. With an actor, though. To be fair, he’s not much of a looker.