Some Favorite Quotes

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All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force… We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.

— Max Planck

To reconcile those who hope to explain mechanically the formation of … an animal and all the interrelation of the parts with those who account for the same structure by referring to final causes. Both explanations are good; … to help us discover useful facts in physics and medicine. And writers who take these diverse routes should not speak ill of each other.

— Leibniz

In seeking absolute truth, we aim at the unattainable and must be content with finding broken pieces… Each one of us may pick up a fragment or two, … and in moments when mortality weighs less heavily upon the spirit, we can, as in a vision, see the form divine.

— William Osler

The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is there’s no ground.

— Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Anybody who has been seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: ‘Ye must have faith.’

— Max Planck

Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe … : the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.

— Immanuel Kant

A fact is a simple statement that everyone believes. It is innocent, unless found guilty. A hypothesis is a novel suggestion that no one wants to believe. It is guilty, until found effective.

— Edward Teller

While I was sitting one night with a poet friend watching a great opera performed in a tent under arc lights, the poet took my arm and pointed silently. Far up, blundering out of the night, a huge Cecropia moth swept past from light to light over the posturings of the actors. “He doesn’t know,” my friend whispered excitedly. “He’s passing through an alien universe brightly lit but invisible to him. He’s in another play; he doesn’t see us. He doesn’t know. Maybe it’s happening right now to us.

— Loren Eiseley

“Then I close the scissors” 

– Trembley, 1744, discovering regeneration in hydra.

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

– Henry Ford

One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done.

— Marie Curie

In my hunt for the secret of life, I started my research in histology.  Unsatisfied, I turned to physiology… pharmacology… bacteriology… But bacteria were even too complex, so I descended to the molecular level. But electrons are just electrons, and have no life at all. Evidently, on the way I had lost life; it had run out between my fingers.

— Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness.

— Max Planck

A deity who could make all things make themselves was far wiser than one who simply made all things.

— John Brooke

The only path to knowing God is through the study of science, and for that reason the Bible opens with a description of the creation.

— Maimonides

I have discovered that all human evil comes from this, man’s being unable to sit still in a room.

— Blaise Pascal

I am shocked not so much by the fact that the Lord prefers the left hand as by the fact that he still appears to be left-right symmetric when he expresses himself strongly.

— Wolfgang Pauli

What is number, that man may know it, and what is man, that he may know a number?

— Warren McCullogh

The pursuit of mathematics is a divine madness of the human spirit, a refuge from the goading urgency of contingent happenings.

— Alfred North Whitehead

Moreover, nature teaches me that many bodies exist around mine, of which some are to be avoided.

— Descartes

You can recognize a pioneer by the arrows in his back.

— Beverly Rubik

Treasure your exceptions!  Keep them always uncovered and in sight. Exceptions are like the rough brickwork of a growing building which tells that there is more to come and shows where the next construction is to be.

— William Bateson

The stuff of the world is mind stuff.

— Arthur Eddington

Can you imagine that they used to have libraries where the books didn’t talk to each other?

— Marvin Minsky

One of the methodological foundations of science lies in the avoidance of the most fundamental questions. It is characteristic of physics, as practiced nowadays, not to really ask what matter is, for biology not to really ask what life is, and for psychology not to really ask what soul is.

— C. F. Von Weizsaecker

In the history of philosophy there have been no greater empiricists than the mystics. They test the reality they experience within the crucible of their own being.

— Josiah Royce

“The universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine.”

— Sir James Jeans

What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.

— Werner Heisenberg

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.

— William James

The exact sciences start from the assumption that in the end, it will always be possible to understand nature, even in every new field of experience, but that we may make no a priori assumption as to the meaning of ‘understand’.

— Werner Heisenberg

Tell me how you are searching and I will tell you what you are searching for.

— Ludwig Wittgenstein

Is the universe a great mechanism, a great computation, a great symmetry, a great accident, or a great thought?

— John D. Barrow

Why is it that showers and even storms seem to come by chance, so that many people think it quite natural to pray for rain or fine weather, though they would consider it ridiculous to ask for an eclipse by prayer?

— Henri Poincare

Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.

— Albert von Szent-Gyorgyi

Wonderful as are the laws and phenomena of electricity when made evident to us in inorganic or dead matter, their interest can bear scarcely any comparison with that which attaches to the same force when connected with the nervous system and with life.

— Michael Faraday, 1839

What a strange machine man is. You fill him with bread, wine, fish, and radishes, and out come sighs, laughter, and dreams.

          — Nikos Kazantzakis

While we have discovered several groups of natives who have no conception whatsoever of religion, we have never come across a race (no matter how far it happened to be removed from the center of civilization) that was completely without some form of artistic expression.

— Hendrik Willem Van Loon, The Arts, 1937

Should one wish to learn the methods of a conjurer, he might vainly watch the latter’s customary repertoire, and, so long as everything went smoothly, might never obtain a clue to the mysterious performance, baffled by the precision of the manipulations and the complexity of the apparatus; if, however, a single error were made in any part or if a single deviation from the customary method should force the manipulator along an unaccustomed path, it would give the investigator an opportunity to obtain a part or the whole of the secret.  Thus. … it seems likely that through the study of the abnormal or unusual, some insight may be obtained into that mystery of mysteries, the development of an organism.

— H. H. Wilder, 1908

We used to believe that if we knew one thing and then another, then we knew two, because one and one are two. We are now discovering that we must learn more about the ‘and’.

– Sir Arthur Eddington

Information is information, neither energy nor matter. No materialism that fails to take account of this can survive the present day.

– Norbert Weiner

Vitalism amounted to the assertion that living things do not behave as though they were nothing but mechanisms constructed of mere material components; but this presupposes that one knows what mere material components are and what kind of mechanisms they can be built into.

— C.H. Waddington

Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.

— E. W. Dijkstra

I live in the woods. I gather specimens and listen to what God has to say to me. After my morning’s talk with God I go into my laboratory and begin to carry out his wishes for the day.

— George Washington Carver

A model is a lie that helps you see the truth.

— Howard Skipper


Real life is, to most men, a long second-best, a perpetual compromise between the real and the possible; but the world of pure reason knows no compromise, no practical limitations, no barrier to the creative activity embodying in splendid edifices the passionate aspiration after the perfect from with all great work springs. Remote from human passions, remote even from the pitiful facts of nature, the generations have gradually created an ordered cosmos, where pure thought can dwell as in its natural home, and where one, at least, of our nobler impulses can escape from the dreary exile of the natural world.

— Bertrand Russell

Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up too.

— Isabel Allende

People say I have created things. I have never created anything. I get impressions from the Universe at large and work them out, but I am only a plate on a record or a receiving apparatus—what you will. Thoughts are really impressions that we get from outside. 

— Thomas Edison

The discovery of the laws of nature requires first and foremost intuition, conceiving of a picture and a great many subconscious processes. The … confirmation of these laws is another matter …. [L]ogic comes after intuition.

— Eugene Wigner

This I learned in the Mysterium: to take seriously every unknown wanderer who personally inhabits the inner world, since they are real because they are effectual.
– Carl Jung, The Red Book

A great scientific discovery … is often described as an inspiration or a special gift of grace which comes to the researcher when and as it pleases, like the answer from “another authority” and then almost without effort on his part. It is never viewed as the inevitable result of his research effort. Here we find the often disturbing and happy experience: “It is not I; I have not done this.” Still, in a certain way it is I — yet not the ego … but … a more comprehensive self.

— C. F. von Weizsäcker

15 responses to “Some Favorite Quotes”

  1. Naudi Avatar

    Regarding Plancks assertion of “Ye must have faith”, I can’t reconcile with that because the only reason I believe in science is because it produces repeatable outcomes.

    1. Mike Levin Avatar
      Mike Levin

      Yep; the continued efficacy of the scientific method (not to mention the circularity of justifying induction with the fact that it’s worked before) requires faith. Believing in the understandability of the world in the first place (against various Humean and other skeptical arguments) requires some faith. Estimates of how much of what we need to know is going to be understandable, or understandable by the scientific method, or that repeatability is the #1 criterion in the search for wisdom – all of those things are a kind of faith.

      1. Naudi Avatar

        In all fairness Dr. Levin, I’m probably too stupid to understand what you’re saying, but from what I am able to gather, I still don’t see science as being faith based.

        Unless orienting decisions towards the highest probabilities is somehow faith based, I still can’t see it. I don’t personally have faith in the sun appearing tomorrow, because there is a high probability of it coming back, due to the fact it has come every day for billions of years. Obviously, some crazy circumstances have blocked it out of the sky in the past, but Earth has orbited the sun for billions of years. Me having trust in the sun appearing because of the data from previous findings seems to go strongly against faith as I understand it (belief absent of evidence).

        It’s extremely likely what you wrote is way over my head, and I apologize if I have bogged your brain down. I do appreciate your response. I’m grateful you even gave it attention. Thank you for all you do.

      2. Naudi Avatar

        I guess one more thing to add is that we do have to have degree of faith that things will coincide with what has happened in the past, but it is extremely minimal. Nothing is 100 percent certain in life, but many things are very close to it. I don’t see it as a measure or faith to fall back on those probabilities. Practically speaking it makes the most sense to. I have up until now and it has proven to be helpful carrying that mindset, but I’m open to the idea that I could be wrong. I just don’t know practically how having faith helps much…

  2. M. Curtis Allen Avatar

    Meant in the spirit of friendship and not of pedantry (feel free to delete this comment if you like, I only write it publicly because I have no other means of correspondence)… Just thought you might like to know, both Leibniz’s and Immanuel Kant’s names are misspelled here.

  3. Andrea Hiott Avatar

    Wonderful! I really appreciate these. Many of them are ones that I have written and looked too, over the years for inspiration as well. Great to see them collected together, and to discover new ones.

  4. Robert Averill Avatar

    Thank you! Thought-provoking, to say the least. I am always interested in the fuzzy area where we dance between science and spirituality. Dr. Levin – I am a huge fan of your work and your willingness to share your sometimes-disruptive findings with the world at large. I also admire your *restraint* when discussing the topic of “mind everywhere,” as you always remain a “good scientist” and always only state what the data shows, unequivocally. But I can’t help but remain curious about how you feel, in private, about the amazing levels of agency and decision-making and goal-seeking you uncover in the world, from single-celled “bioelectric minds” all the way to complex neuron-based brain/minds. It seems that in the bioelectricity of Life, an amazing capability for sentience and possibly subjective awareness either emerges “from the inert matter” (atheist materialist view) or exposes itself as a fundamental Truth of our universe (spiritual or panpsychist view). Each of us needs to choose which of these paths and conclusions we believe, and I respect that you hold dialogues and collaborate with proponents of the former (Daniel Dennett, et al) and the latter (“Biology, Buddhism, and AI” and other journal articles, etc.).
    (As an aside, I am referencing some of your work in a self-published manuscript for the general reader on the topic of “brain and mind” that is being prepared for release now, and would welcome your review of the chapters where I reference your work. If interested, feel free to email me at I would be honored for any feedback you would be willing to provide!)

  5. Benjamin Schulz Avatar
    Benjamin Schulz

    Pessimism is not a healthy thing in science, but neither is unrealistic optimism.


  6. Pamela Lyon Avatar
    Pamela Lyon

    At last! A regular glimpse into the mind of Michael Levin. Just read through this phenomenal thread (in both senses of phenomenal) and am profoundly grateful (once again) for your existence. Thank you so much for taking time out of the pandemonium of an over-committed life to send us these missives for ordering experience. Life and existence is amazing!

  7. Leo Caves Avatar
    Leo Caves

    Wishing you a plentiful supply of bread, wine, fish, and radishes…

  8. Pankaj Trivedi Avatar
    Pankaj Trivedi

    Wonderful collection. Reading your posts enriches me immensely.

  9. C.W. Winter Avatar

    Might I ask where the H.H. Wilder quote comes from? For me, it is as illuminating not just about biology but about aesthetic choices as well.

    1. Mike Levin Avatar
      Mike Levin

      I’m not sure, I’ve had this written down for years and lost the original context. Maybe someone else can find the original.

    2. Leo Caves Avatar
      Leo Caves

      The morphology of cosmobia; speculations concerning the significance of certain types of monsters
      HH Wilder – American Journal of Anatomy, 1908

      Available at:

  10. Pankaj Trivedi Avatar
    Pankaj Trivedi

    Great collection. Reading your posts is as always enriching. Thank you.

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