William Thomson

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Do not imagine that mathematics is hard and crabbed, and repulsive to common sense. It is merely the etherealization of common sense.
There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now, All that remains is more and more precise measurement.

William Thomson (June 26, 1824December 17, 1907), 1st Baron Kelvin, often referred to simply as Lord Kelvin, was a Scottish physicist.

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  • I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.
    • Lecture on "Electrical Units of Measurement" (3 May 1883), published in Popular Lectures Vol. I, p. 73; quoted in Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety (1998) by Jeanne Mager Stellman, p. 1973
  • There cannot be a greater mistake than that of looking superciliously upon the practical applications of science. The life and soul of science is its practical application; and just as the great advances in mathematics have been made through the desire of discovering the solution of problems which were of a highly practical kind in mathematical science, so in physical science many of the greatest advances that have been made from the beginning of the world to the present time have been made in earnest desire to turn the knowledge of the properties of matter to some purpose useful to mankind.
    • Lecture on "Electrical Units of Measurement" (3 May 1883), published in Popular Lectures Vol. I, p. 73, as quoted in The Life of Lord Kelvin (1943) by Silvanus Phillips Thompson
  • Quaternions came from Hamilton after his really good work had been done, and though beautifully ingenious, have been an unmixed evil to those who have touched them in any way.
    • Letter to R. B. Hayward (1892), as quoted in Energy and Empire : A Biographical Study of Lord Kelvin (1989) by Crosbie Smith and M. Norton Wise
  • Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.
    • Spoken in 1895, as quoted in The Experts Speak : The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation (1984) by Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky, p. 236
  • Symmetrical equations are good in their place, but 'vector' is a useless survival, or offshoot from quaternions, and has never been of the slightest use to any creature.
    • Letter to G. F. FitzGerald (1896) as quoted in A History of Vector Analysis : The Evolution of the Idea of a Vectorial System (1994) by Michael J. Crowe, p. 120
  • There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.
    • Address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1900), as quoted in Superstring : A theory of everything? (1988) by Paul Davies and Julian Brown; also in Rebuilding the Matrix : Science and Faith in the 21st Century (2003) by Denis Alexander
  • Do not imagine that mathematics is hard and crabbed, and repulsive to common sense. It is merely the etherealization of common sense.
    • Quoted in Life of Lord Kelvin (1943) by Silvanus Phillips Thompson

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  • Tesla has contributed more to electrical science than any man up to his time.

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