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Up to date as of January 14, 2010

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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.
...when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it;...

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



  • 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
  • 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
  • Tesla has contributed more to electrical science than any man up to his time.
    • Statement of 1896, as quoted in Prodigal Genius : The Life of Nikola Tesla (2007) by James J. O'Neill


  • There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.
    • Although reportedly from an address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1900), the quote is only duplicated without citation to any primary source in various books, including 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. To be more credible, a source prior to the 1980s and close to 1900 is needed.
      • Confusion may be due to Michelson who made a similar quote whilst mentioning Lord Kelvin: In 1894, Albert A. Michelson remarked that in physics there were no more fundamental discoveries to be made. Quoting Lord Kelvin, he continued, “An eminent physicist remarked that the future truths of physical science are to be looked for in the sixth place of decimals. [1]
  • The beauty and clearness of the dynamical theory, which asserts heat and light to be modes of motion, is at present obscured by two clouds. I. The first came into existence with the undulatory theory of light, and was dealt with by Fresnel and Dr. Thomas Young; it involved the question, how could the earth move through an elastic solid, such as essentially is the luminiferous ether? II. The second is the Maxwell–Boltzmann doctrine regarding the partition of energy.


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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

WILLIAM THOMSON (1819-1890), English divine, archbishop of York, was born on the 11th of February 1819 at Whitehaven, Cumberland. He was educated at Shrewsbury and at Queen's College, Oxford, of which he became a scholar. He took his B.A. degree in 1840, and was soon afterwards made fellow of his college. He was ordained in 1842, and worked as a curate at Cuddesdon. In 1847 he was made tutor of his college, and in 1853 he delivered the Bampton lectures, his subject being "The Atoning Work of Christ viewed in Relation to some Ancient Theories." These thoughtful and learned lectures established hi's reputation and did much to clear the ground for subsequent discussions on the subject. Thomson's activity was not confined to theology. He was made fellow of the Royal and the Royal Geographical Societies. He also wrote a very popular Outline of the Laws of Thought. He sided with the party at Oxford which favoured university reform, but this did not prevent him from being appointed provost of his college in 1855. In 1858 he was made preacher at Lincoln's Inn and there preached some striking sermons, a volume of which he published in 1861. In the same year he edited Aids to Faith, a volume written in opposition to Essays and Reviews, the progressive sentiments of which had stirred up a great storm in the Church of England. In December 1861 he was rewarded with the see of Gloucester and Bristol, and within a twelvemonth he was elevated to the archiepiscopal see of York. In this position his moderate orthodoxy led him to join Archbishop Tait in supporting the Public Worship Regulation Act, and, as president of the northern convocation, he came frequently into sharp collision with the lower house of that body. But if he thus incurred the hostility of the High Church party among the clergy, he was admired by the laity for his strong sense, his clear and forcible reasoning, and his wide knowledge, and he remained to the last a power in the north of England. In his later years he published an address read before the members of the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution (1868), one on Design in Nature, for the Christian Evidence Society, which reached a fifth edition, various charges and pastoral addresses, and he was one of the projectors of The Speaker's Commentary, for which he wrote the "Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels." He died on the 25th of December 1890.

See the Quarterly Review (April 1892).

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