Quotable Quotes About Science

A science cannot be played with. If an hypothesis is advanced that obviously brings into direct sequence of cause and effect all the phenomena of human history, we must accept it, and if we accept it, we must teach it.
     Henry Brooks Adams

Science does not promise absolute truth, nor does it consider that such a thing necessarily exists. Science does not even promise that everything in the Universe is amenable to the scientific process.
     Isaac Asimov, ‘X’ Stands for Unknown; “Introduction”

I believe that scientific knowledge has fractal properties; that no matter how much we learn, whatever is left, however small it may seem, is just as infinitely complex as the whole was to start with. That, I think, is the secret of the Universe.
     Isaac Asimov, “Essay 400 — A Way of Thinking” 
     (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1994)

Books must follow sciences, and not sciences books.
     Francis Bacon

All sciences are connected; they lend each other material aid as parts of one great whole, each doing its own work, not for itself alone, but for the other parts; as the eye guides the body and the foot sustains it and leads it from place to place.
     Roger Bacon

Out of man’s mind in free play comes the creation Science. It renews itself, like the generations, thanks to an activity which is the best game of homo ludens: science is in the strictest and best sense a glorious entertainment.
     Jacques Barzun

One can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but one cannot fool all the people all the time when the evidence is as clear as it can be in natural science. Nothing, by contrast, can force one person to agree with another about which approach to literary criticism is the best, right, or most fruitful; and we simply do not know what makes some children grow up curious and others uninterested; and we can and do argue and disagree over such matters without end.
     Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and the 
     Myth of the Scientific Method 

That science does not have all the answers does not mean that it has no answers. That science now has inadequate answers in some areas does not mean that the answers will not become adequate in the future; in fact, history teaches that science’s answers become better and better as time goes by. That science is fallible does not mean that science is entirely fallible or that it is as fallible as such other modes of human knowledge and belief as folklore, religion, political ideology, or social science. That science has no answers in some matters — such as the value of human life or the purpose of living — does not mean that it has no answers in other areas — those areas that are within its purview, matters of forces and substances and natural phenomena. And that science has no direct answers on matters of human purpose does not mean that its answers on other matters have no bearing on how, and how well, we are able to think about human purpose, free will, and other such things.
     Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and the 
     Myth of the Scientific Method 

That science is not everything should not blind us to the fact that it is the very best of what we do have. Just as those who benefit from individual therapy can take pride from the persistent acts of will they exerted along the way, so humankind can take collective pride from the persistent determination to submit to reality therapy that has produced not only the science we now know but also an understanding of how to go about learning more.
     Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and the 
     Myth of the Scientific Method 

That science is inescapably a human activity does not mean that it is only or just a human activity, essentially similar to all other human activities.
     Henry H. Bauer, Scientific Literacy and the 
     Myth of the Scientific Method 

Men who have excessive faith in their theories or ideas are not only ill-prepared for making discoveries; they also make poor observations.
     Claude Bernard

True science teaches us to doubt and, in ignorance, to refrain.
     Claude Bernard

We must never be too absorbed by the thought we are pursuing.
     Claude Bernard

If an idea presents itself to us, we must not reject it simply because it does not agree with the logical deductions of a reigning theory.
     Claude Bernard, An Introduction to the 
     Study of Experimental Medicine 

I would insist that any proposal for a radically new theory in physics or in any other science, contain a clear explanation of why the precedent science worked. What new domain of experience is being explored by the new science, and how does it meld with the old?
     Jeremy Bernstein, Cranks, Quarks, and the Cosmos (1993)

Science is driven forward by unexpected and surprising results emerging from new experiments or by the appearance of contradictions between theories previously thought compatible. Solving such problems as they arise is of the essence of our work. Thus science is not something strange and odd but the most human of pursuits.
     Sir Hermann Bondi, “The Philosopher of Science”, Nature1992358:363

The difference between science and magic is that magicians usually know what they’re doing.
     Ashleigh Brilliant

Man masters nature not by force but by understanding. That is why science has succeeded where magic failed; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it.
     Jacob Bronowski, Science and Human Values (1956)

That is the essence of science: ask an impertinent question, and you are on the way to a pertinent answer.
     Jacob Bronowski, The Ascent of Man (1973)

Nothing tends so much to the corruption of science as to suffer it to stagnate.
     Edmund Burke

There are two kinds of truth; the truth that lights the way and the truth that warms the heart. The first of these is science, and the second is art. . . . Without art science would be as useless as a pair of high forceps in the hands of a plumber. Without science art would become a crude mess of folklore and emotional quackery.
     Raymond Chandler, The Notebooks of Raymond Chandler (1976)
     “Great Thought”

In this sense, the need to go to the moon or smash atoms is on a par with the need to have natural history museums: Science provides a handle on who we are and how we fit into the scheme of things. Understanding our place in the sun requires an understanding of the sun’s place in the solar system, the cycles of the sky, the nature of the elements, and the improbabilities of life. If what we learn leaves us a little stunned by our limitations and potentials, so be it. Science gives us a sense of scale and a sense of limits, an appreciation for perspective and a tolerance for ambiguity.
     K. C. Cole, First You Build A Cloud and Other 
     Reflections on Physics as a Way of Life 

… a theory will always command more attention if it is supported by unexpected evidence, particularly evidence of a different kind.
     Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit: A Personal 
     View of Scientific Discovery 

Scientific thinking, which is analytic and objective, goes against the grain of traditional human thinking, which is associative and subjective. Far from being a natural part of human development, science arose from unique historical factors.
     Alan Cromer, Uncommon Sense: 
     The Heretical Nature of Science 

The notion that science and objective thinking are unnatural human activities seems quite radical at first. But when you think about it, monogamy, honesty, and democratic government are unnatural human behaviors as well. We are truly a species that has invented itself out of rather unpromising material. Our only claim to greatness is that we have at times gone against the grain of our own egocentrism to forge a higher vision of the world.
     Alan Cromer, Uncommon Sense: 
     The Heretical Nature of Science 

Science is overwhelmingly cumulative, not revolutionary, in its structure. This means that most of its established results — even those established recently — will be around forever. A particular result may be found to be an instance of a more general result, but its factualness, as far as it goes, will never change.
     Alan Cromer, Uncommon Sense: 
     The Heretical Nature of Science 

The word theory, as used in the natural sciences, doesn’t mean an idea tentatively held for purposes of argument — that we call a hypothesis. Rather, a theory is a set of logically consistent abstract principles that explain a body of concrete facts. It is the logical connections among the principles and the facts that characterize a theory as truth. No one element of a theory, not a single fact or principle, can be changed without creating a logical contradiction that invalidates the entire system. Thus, although it may not be possible to substantiate directly a particular principle in the theory, the principle is validated by the consistency of the entire logical structure.
     Alan Cromer, Uncommon Sense: 
     The Heretical Nature of Science 

Reality has far more wonders than all the tales of Arabia, giving us in return for our lost feeling of omnipotence some knowledge of the external world, some control over and responsibility for our lives, and even a touch of humility.
     Alan Cromer, Uncommon Sense: 
     The Heretical Nature of Science 

I have steadily endeavored to keep my mind free so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (and I cannot resist forming one on every subject) as soon as the facts are shown to be opposed to it.
     Charles Darwin

Great is the power of steady misrepresentation — but the history of science shows how, fortunately, this power does not long endure.
     Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species 
     by Means of Natural Selection 

Existing science must be overthrown not by casual anecdotes but by the most rigorous research, repeated, dissected, and repeated again.
     Richard Dawkins, “Putting Away Childish Things” 
     (Skeptical Inquirer, Jan/Feb 1995, p. 31)

Everything existing in the Universe is the fruit of chance and necessity.

“Seminar” is not yet officially a transitive verb. Still, most graduate students in any large research-oriented university have at times felt themselves more the helpless objects of a seminar than its active participants. “Seminared into numbness” describes that feeling of oversaturation.
     Carl Djerassi, Cantor’s Dilemma (1989)

“One’s ideas must be as broad as Nature if they are to interpret Nature.”
     Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,
     A Study in Scarlet (1887)

The insistence upon the untrustworthiness of science is usually, if not always, subtle propaganda in favor of some theology or metaphysics which would take us farther away from the world of obdurate reality rather than give us a clearer view. Amid the welter of such day-dreams, it is safe to cling to scientific fact. The conclusions of science are the surest knowledge we have; and so far as science goes, we can trust it more confidently than any other brand of truth.
     Durant Drake, Invitation to Philosophy (1933)

Magic begins in superstition and ends in science.
     Will Durant, The Story of Civilization I: 
     Our Oriental Heritage 

Science is even more unpredictable than history. Every important discovery in science is by definition unpredictable. If it were predictable, it would not be an important discovery. The purpose of science is to create opportunities for unpredictable things to happen. When nature does something unexpected, we learn something about how nature works. It used to be said, before the recent era of revolutionary discoveries, that science was organized common sense. In the modern era it would be more accurate to define science as organized unpredictability.
     Freeman Dyson, From Eros to Gaia (1992)
     “The Importance of Being Unpredictable” (1990)

Everything should be as simple as possible — but not simpler.
     Albert Einstein

Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone.
     Albert Einstein

Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one’s living at it.
     Albert Einstein

The only source of knowledge is experience.
     Albert Einstein

There is no logical way to the discovery of these elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance.
     Albert Einstein

You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.
     Albert Einstein

It is difficult even to attach a precise meaning to the term “scientific truth.” Thus the meaning of the word “truth” varies according to whether we deal with a fact of experience, a mathematical proposition, or a scientific theory. … Scientific research can reduce superstition by encouraging people to think and view things in terms of cause and effect. Certain it is that a conviction, akin to religious feeling, of the rationality or intelligibility of the world lies behind all scientific work of a higher order.
     Albert Einstein, “On Scientific Truth”; answers 
     to questions of a Japanese scholar (1929)

Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world.
     Albert Einstein, Evolution of Physics (1938)

It seems that the human mind has first to construct forms independently before we can find them in things. Kepler’s marvelous achievement is a particularly fine example of the truth that knowledge cannot spring from experience alone, but only from the comparison of the inventions of the intellect with observed fact.
     Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions (1954)

The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is incomprehensible.
     Albert Einstein, quoted in his obituary (April 19, 1955)

I think and think for months, for years; 99 times the conclusion is false, but the hundredth time I am right.
     Albert Einstein, quoted in Banesh Hoffman, 
     Albert Einstein, Creator and Rebel (1972)

If you are out to describe the truth leave elegance to the tailor.
     Albert Einstein, quoted in Banesh Hoffman, 
     Albert Einstein, Creator and Rebel (1972)

One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike — and yet it is the most precious thing we have.
     Albert Einstein, quoted in Banesh Hoffman, 
     Albert Einstein, Creator and Rebel (1972)

No facts are to me sacred; none are profane; I simply experiment, an endless seeker, with no past at my back.
     Ralph Waldo Emerson

Science corrects the old creeds, sweeps away, with every new perception, our infantile catechisms, and necessitates a faith commensurate with the grander orbits and universal laws which it discloses.
     Ralph Waldo Emerson

It has been said that science demystifies the world. It is closer to the truth to say that science, when it is at its best, opens the world up for us, bringing daily realities under a kind of magic spell and providing the means to see the limits of what we think we know, and the scope of what we do not at all understand.
     Claus Emmeche, The Garden in the Machine: 
     The Emerging Science of Artificial Life

Nothing is too wonderful to be true if it be consistent with the laws of nature.
     Michael Faraday

It is impossible, by the way, by picking one of anything to pick one that is not atypical in some sense. That is the wonder of the world.
     Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law (1965)

Second, it [the law of gravity] is not exact; Einstein had to modify it, and we know it is not quite right yet, because we have still to put the quantum theory in. That is the same with all our other laws — they are not exact. There is always an edge of mystery, always a place where we have some fiddling around to do yet. This may or may not be a property of Nature, but it certainly is common to all the laws as we know them today. It may be only a lack of knowledge.
     Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law (1965)

This is common to all our laws; they all turn out to be simple things, although complex in their actual actions.
     Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law (1965)

This is the key of modern science and it was the beginning of the true understanding of Nature — this idea to look at the thing, to record the details, and to hope that in the information thus obtained might lie a clue to one or another theoretical interpretation.
     Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law (1965)

In order to avoid simply describing experiments that have been done, we have to propose laws beyond their observed range. There is nothing wrong with that, despite the fact that it makes science uncertain. If you thought before that science was certain — well, that is just an error on your part.
     Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law (1965)

It is necessary to teach both to accept and to reject the past with a kind of balance that takes considerable skill. Science alone of all the subjects contains within itself the lesson of the danger of belief in the infallibility of the greatest teachers of the preceding generation.
     Richard Feynman, “What is Science?” (speech, 1966)
     reprinted in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best 
     Short Works of Richard P. Feynman 
(Jeffrey Robbins, ed., 1999)

We’ve learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you were wrong or right. Nature’s phenomena will agree or they’ll disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven’t tried to be very careful in this kind of work. And it’s this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in cargo cult science.
     Richard Feynman, “Cargo Cult Science” 
     (Caltech commencement address, 1974)
     “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”: 
     Adventures of a Curious Character 

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.
     Richard Feynman, “Cargo Cult Science” 
     (Caltech commencement address, 1974)
     “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”: 
     Adventures of a Curious Character 

Each piece, or part, of the whole of nature is always merely an approximation to the complete truth, or the complete truth so far as we know it. In fact, everything we know is only some kind of approximation, because we know that we do not know all the laws as yet. Therefore, things must be learned only to be unlearned again or, more likely, to be corrected.
     Richard Feynman, Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics 
     Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher 
     “Atoms in Motion”

The principle of science, the definition, almost, is the following: The test of all knowledge is experiment. Experiment is the sole judge of scientific “truth.” But what is the source of knowledge? Where do the laws that are to be tested come from? Experiment, itself, helps to produce these laws, in the sense that it gives us hints. But also needed is imagination to create from these hints the great generalizations — to guess at the wonderful, simple, but very strange patterns beneath them all, and then to experiment to check again whether we have made the right guess.
     Richard Feynman, Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics 
     Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher 
     “Atoms in Motion”

What is the fundamental hypothesis of science, the fundamental philosophy? We stated it in the first chapter: the sole test of the validity of any idea is experiment. … We will invent some way to summarize the results of the experiment, and we do not have to be told ahead of time what this way will look like. If we are told that the same experiment will always produce the same result, that is all very well, but if when we try it, it does not, then it does not. We just have to take what we see, and then formulate all the rest of our ideas in terms of our actual experience.
     Richard Feynman, Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics 
     Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher 
     “Basic Physics”

In this chapter we shall discuss one of the most far-reaching generalizations of the human mind. While we are admiring the human mind, we should take some time off to stand in awe of a nature that could follow with such completeness and generality such an elegantly simple principle as the law of gravitation.
     Richard Feynman, Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics 
     Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher 
     “The Theory of Gravitation”

I prefer to give you a demonstration that it’s an ellipse in a completely strange, unique, [and] different way than you are used to. I am going to give what I will call an elementary demonstration. [But] “elementary” does not mean easy to understand. “Elementary” means that very little is required to know ahead of time in order to understand it, except to have an infinite amount of intelligence.
     Richard Feynman, Feynman’s Lost Lecture: The Motion of Planets 
     Around the Sun 
(David L. & Judith R. Goodstein, eds., 1996)
     “The Motion of Planets Around the Sun” (March 13, 1964)

The work of science does not consist of creation but of the discovery of true thoughts.
     Gottlob Frege

In questions of science the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.
     Galileo Galilei, in Arago’s Eulogy of Laplace (1874)

No theory is good except on condition that one uses it to go beyond.
     André Gide

Science has explained everything it could explain, and it will continue to do so. Every effort to bar science from some areas on the ground that they were not susceptible to empirical investigation has had the effect of inhibiting science in other areas also. Man has progressed by exercising a humble confidence in the might of his own mind, not by throwing up his hands and shrugging his shoulders.
     Ray Ginger, Six Days or Forever: Tennessee 
     v. John Thomas Scopes 

Without my attempts in natural science, I should never have learned to know mankind such as it is. In nothing else can we so closely approach pure contemplation and thought, so closely observe the errors of the senses and of understanding.
     Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

… nothing can stifle originality more effectively than an ordinary mantle placed fully and securely over an extraordinary thing.
     Stephen Jay Gould

The great geologist Charles Lyell argued that a scientific hypothesis is elegant and exciting insofar as it contradicts common sense.
     Stephen Jay Gould, Ever Since Darwin (1977)
     “An Unsung Single-Celled Hero”

As the new Darwinian orthodoxy swept through Europe, its most brilliant opponent, the aging embryologist Karl Ernst von Baer, remarked with bitter irony that every triumphant theory passes through three stages: first it is dismissed as untrue; then it is rejected as contrary to religion; finally, it is accepted as dogma and each scientist claims that he had long appreciated its truth.
     Stephen Jay Gould, Ever Since Darwin (1977)
     “The Validation of Continental Drift”

Most people think that the reason for this is that scientists are so imbued with this grand goal of finding an ultimate truth. That’s not why. It’s exactly the opposite. It is because do-to-day scientific work is so tedious that unless you felt that the cleaning of the cages and petri dishes every day was actually leading to true, natural knowledge, why would you do it? If the history of science is nothing more than a changing set of views corresponding to altering social conventions, why do the hard work?
     Stephen Jay Gould, “An Urchin In A Haystack: 
     An Interview with Stephen Jay Gould” by Michael 
     Shermer (SKEPTIC, 4:1, 1996, p. 90)

It is also of course difficult to renounce a cherished theory, the product of costly intellectual and emotional investment, and to accept the cost to ambition, reputation and pride of a humiliating retraction. As the economist J. K. Galbraith put it, ‘faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy with the proof.’ And so a fatuous optimism triumphs over the caution that must guide all scientists through most of their working lives.
     Walter Gratzer, The Undergrowth of Science: 
     Delusion, Self-Deception and Human Frailty 

What (if any) morals can one draw from the foregoing episodes of human folly and delusion? These stories are not about merely being wrong. That, after all, happens all the time in science, as in every other human endeavour, and often to the best of scientists — those who make the imaginative leaps into the unknown. A political commentator has asserted that the function of an expert is not to be right but to be wrong for more refined reasons; and the great Niels Bohr defined an expert as one who has made all the mistakes that can be made within his narrow field. It is confusion, rather than error, that impedes progress. It is not even a matter of being grossly and embarrassingly wrong (though this was certainly a component in the history of cold fusion and memory transfer, for example); that too can happen to anyone brave enough to take risks. It is a corollary of Murphy’s Law (which, as originally enunciated, states that if anything can go wrong it will, with the rider, even if it can’t it may) that the more foolish the action the more people will be watching. Since all scientists are well aware of this, mortifying lapses are generally treated with at least some degree of sympathy.
     Walter Gratzer, The Undergrowth of Science: 
     Delusion, Self-Deception and Human Frailty 

In scientific thought we adopt the simplest theory which will explain all the facts under consideration and enable us to predict new facts of the same kind. The catch in this criterion lies in the word ‘simplest.’ It is really an aesthetic canon such as we find implicit in our criticism of poetry or painting. The layman finds such a law as dx/dt = K(d2x/dy2) much less simple than ‘it oozes,’ of which it is the mathematical statement. The physicist reverses this judgment, and his statement is certainly the more fruitful of the two, so far as prediction is concerned. It is, however, a statement about something very unfamiliar to the plain man, namely, the rate of change of a rate of change.
     J. B. S. [John Burdon Sanderson] Haldane, Possible Worlds (1927)

Natural science does not simply describe and explain nature; it is part of the interplay between nature and ourselves; it describes nature as exposed to our method of questioning.
     Wener Karl Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy (1959)

Any pride I might have felt in my conclusions was perceptibly lessened by the fact that I knew that the solution of these problems had almost always come to me as the gradual generalization of favorable examples, by a series of fortunate conjectures, after many errors.
     Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz

One cannot escape the feeling that these equations [Maxwell’s equations] have an existence and intelligence of their own; that they are wiser than we are, wiser even than their discoverers; that we get more out of them than was originally put into them.

There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance.
     Hippocrates, Law

Science is a first-rate piece of furniture for a man’s upper chamber, if he has common sense on the ground floor.
     Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Poet at the Breakfast-Table (1872)

Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science.
     Edwin Powell Hubble

Science says the first word on everything, and the last word on nothing.
     Victor Hugo, Things of the Infinite

We do not claim that the portrait we are making is the whole truth, only that it is a resemblance.
     Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862)

Science has fulfilled her function when she has ascertained and enunciated truth.
     Thomas Henry [T. H.] Huxley

The investigation of nature is an infinite pasture-ground, where all may graze, and where the more bite, the longer the grass grows, the sweeter is its flavor, and the more it nourishes.
     Thomas Henry [T. H.] Huxley

The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.
     Thomas Henry [T. H.] Huxley

The chess board is the world, the pieces are the phenomena of the universe, the rules of the game are what we call the laws of Nature. The player on the other side is hidden from us. We know that his play is always fair, just, and patient. But also we know, to our cost, that he never overlooks a mistake, or makes the smallest allowance for ignorance.
     Thomas Henry [T. H.] Huxley, “A Liberal Education” (1868)

That fashioning by Nature of a picture of herself, in the mind of man, which we call the progress of Science . . .
     Thomas Henry [T. H.] Huxley, Nature 18691, 10

The great tragedy of Science — the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.
     Thomas Henry [T. H.] Huxley, “Biogenesis and Abiogenesis” (1870)

Every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority.
     Thomas Henry [T. H.] Huxley, Lay Sermons (1870)

It is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions.
     Thomas Henry [T. H.] Huxley, “The Coming of 
     Age of The Origin of Species” (1880)

The deepest sin against the human mind is to believe things without evidence. Science is simply common sense at its best — that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.
     Thomas Henry [T. H.] Huxley, “Evolution and Ethics” (1893)

Every science has been an outcast.
     Robert Ingersoll

There comes a time when every scientist, even God, has to write off an experiment.
     P. D. James, Devices and Desires (1989)

Science, like life, feeds on its own decay. New facts burst old rules; then newly devined conceptions bind old and new together into a reconciling law.
     William James, The Will to Believe and 
     Other Essays in Popular Philosophy 

I am pleased, however, to see the efforts of hypothetical speculation, because by the collisions of different hypotheses, truth may be elicited and science advanced in the end.
     Thomas Jefferson

The moment a person forms a theory, his imagination sees, in every object, only the traits which favor that theory.
     Thomas Jefferson

In addition I think science has enjoyed an extraordinary success because it has such a limited and narrow realm in which to focus its efforts. Namely, the physical universe.
     Ken Jenkins

We do not ask for what useful purpose the birds do sing, for song if their pleasure since they were created for singing. Similarly, we ought not to ask why the human mind troubles to fathom the secrets of the heavens…. The diversity of the phenomena of Nature is so great, and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment.
     Johannes Kepler

A first-rate theory predicts; a second-rate theory forbids; and a third-rate theory explains after the event.
     Aleksander Isaakovich Kitaigorodskii, lecture, IUC Amsterdam (August 1975)

In the world of human thought generally, and in physical science particularly, the most important and fruitful concepts are those to which it is impossible to attach a well-defined meaning.
     Hendrik Anthony Kramers

Physics progresses not by revolutions, which do away with all that went before, but rather by evolutions, which exploit the best about what is already understood. Newton’s laws will continue to be as true a million years from now as they are today, no matter what we discover at the frontiers of science.
     Lawrence M. Krauss, The Physics of Star Trek (1995)

There is a maxim about the universe which I always tell my students: That which is not explicitly forbidden is guaranteed to occur. Or, as Data said in the episode “Parallels,” referring to the laws of quantum mechanics, “All things which can occur, do occur.”
     Lawrence M. Krauss, The Physics of Star Trek (1995)

There are not many joys in human life equal to the joy of the sudden birth of a generalization illuminating the mind after a long period of patient research. … He who has once in his life experienced this joy of scientific creation will never forget it.
     Prince Pëtr Alekseevich Kropotkin

But there is trouble in store for anyone who surrenders to the temptation of mistaking an elegant hypothesis for a certainty: the readers of detective stories know this quite well.
     Primo Levi, The Periodic Table (1975)

The future of humanity is uncertain, even in the most prosperous countries, and the quality of life deteriorates; and yet I believe that what is being discovered about the infinitely large and the infinitely small is sufficient to absolve this end of the century and millennium. What a very few are acquiring in knowledge of the physical world will perhaps cause this period not to be judged as a pure return to barbarism.
     Primo Levi, Other People’s Trades (1989)
     “News from the Sky”

Theoretical physicists can invent theories in which the speed of light is not an absolute limit, but those theories do not correspond to the world we inhabit. The speed of light does not have to be finite, but in our world, as distinct from all the imaginary worlds a mathematician might invent, it is. Some things in the end can be determined only empirically, by looking at the world and figuring out how it works.
     David Lindley, The End of Physics: 
     The Myth of a Unified Theory 

Progress in science is a matter of jumping to conclusions. The trick is to jump to useful and interesting conclusions. Generalizing from small scraps of evidence may lead one astray, but sticking strictly to what limited evidence one has, and refusing to countenance anything that is not directly provable, leads nowhere at all. The scientist has to generate new ideas and hypotheses, then act upon them.
     David Lindley, Where Does the Weirdness Go? Why Quantum 
     Mechanics is Strange, But Not As Strange As You Think 

Truth in science can be defined as the working hypothesis best suited to open the way to the next better one.
     Konrad (Zacharias) Lorenz

W. V. O. Quine has been one of the most ruthless of recent appliers of this principle [Ockham’s razor.] I recall an exchange in print (a fest-schrift, around 1980) where someone quoted Shakespeare’s “There are more things on heaven and earth, than are dreamed of in your philosophy” at Quine. Quine responded something like, “Possibly, but my concern is that there not be more things in my philosophy than are in heaven and earth.
     David Lyndes

This century has been so rich in discovery and so packed with technical innovation that it is tempting to believe that there can never be another like it. That conceit betrays the poverty of our collective imagination. … The record of previous centuries suggests that the excitement in the years ahead will spring from the answers to the questions we do not yet know enough to ask.
     John Maddox, What Remains To Be Discovered (1998)

It was a great step in science when men became convinced that, in order to understand the nature of things, they must begin by asking, not whether a thing is good or bad, noxious or beneficial, but of what kind it is? and how much is there of it? Quality and quantity were then first recognized as the primary features to be discovered in scientific inquiry.
     James Clerk Maxwell

. . . that, in a few years, all great physical constants will have been approximately estimated, and that the only occupation which will be left to men of science will be to carry these measurements to another place of decimals. [Maxwell himself categorically rejected this view and was attacking it.]
     James Clerk Maxwell, Scientific Papers 18712, 244 (October 1871)

The truth is not in nature, waiting to declare itself. . . . Every discovery, every enlargement of the understanding begins as an imaginative preconception of what the truth might be.
     Peter Medawar, Advice to a Young Scientist (1979)

A strong sense of unease and dissatisfaction always goes with lack of comprehension. Laymen feel it too; how can we otherwise account for the relief they feel when they learn that some odd and disturbing phenomenon can be explained? It cannot be the explanation itself that brings relief, for it may easily be too technical to be widely understood. It is not the knowledge itself, but the satisfaction of knowing that something is known.
     Peter Medawar, Advice to a Young Scientist (1979)

It can be said with complete confidence that any scientist of any age who wants to make important discoveries must study important problems. Dull or piffling problems yield duff of piffling answers. It is not enough that a problem should be “interesting” — almost any problem is interesting if it is studied in sufficient depth. … No, the problem must be such that it matters what the answer is — whether to science generally or to mankind.
     Peter Medawar, Advice to a Young Scientist (1979)

Following the lead of Bismarck and Cavour, who described the art of politics as “the art of the possible,” I have described the art of research as “the art of the soluble.”
     By some people this was almost willfully misunderstood to mean that I advocated the study of easy problems yielding quick solutions — unlike my critics, who were studying problems of which the main attraction (to them) was that they could not be solved. What I mean of course was that the art of research is that of making a problem soluble by finding out ways of getting at it — soft underbellies and the like.
     Peter Medawar, Advice to a Young Scientist (1979)

I cannot give any scientist of any age better advice that this: the intensity of the conviction that a hypothesis is true has no bearing on whether it is true or not. The importance of the strength of our conviction is only to provide a proportionately strong incentive to find out if the hypothesis will stand up to critical evaluation.
     Peter Medawar, Advice to a Young Scientist (1979)

It is not methodologically an exaggeration to say that Fleming eventually found penicillin because he had been looking for it. A thousand people might have observed whatever it was that he did observe without making anything of it or building upon the observation in any way; but Fleming had the right slot in his mind, waiting for it. Good luck is almost always preceded by an expectation that it will gratify. Pasteur is well known to have said that fortune favors the prepared mind, and Fontenelle observed, “Ces hasards ne sont que pour ceux qui jouent bien!” (“These strokes of good fortune are only for those who play well!”).
     Peter Medawar, Advice to a Young Scientist (1979)

If we accept, as I fear we must, that science cannot answer questions about first and last things or about purposes, there is yet no known or conceivable limit to its power to answer questions of the kind science can answer. … Science will dry up only if scientists lose or fail to exercise the power or incentive to imagine what the truth might be. One can envisage an end of science no more readily than one can envisage an end of imaginative literature or the fine arts.
     Peter Medawar, Advice to a Young Scientist (1979)

To say that Einstein formulated a theory of relativity by guesswork is on all fours with saying that Wordsworth wrote rhymes and Mozart tuneful music. It is cheeky where something grave is called for.
     Peter Medawar, “Hypothesis and Imagination” 
     (Times Literary Supplement, 25 Oct 1963); 
     reprinted in The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice 
     and Other Classic Essays on Science 

The formulation of a hypothesis carries with it an obligation to test it as rigorously as we can command skills to do so.
     Peter Medawar, “Hypothesis and Imagination” 
     (Times Literary Supplement, 25 Oct 1963); 
     reprinted in The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice 
     and Other Classic Essays on Science 

Scientists are building explanatory structures, telling stories which are scrupulously tested to see if they are stories about real life.
     Peter Medawar, “Hypothesis and Imagination” 
     (Times Literary Supplement, 25 Oct 1963); 
     reprinted in The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice 
     and Other Classic Essays on Science 

No scientist is admired for failing in the attempt to solve problems that lie beyond his competence. The most he can hope for is the kindly contempt earned by the Utopian politician. If politics is the art of the possible, research is surely the art of the soluble. Both are immensely practical-minded affairs.
     Peter Medawar, “The Act of Creation” (New Statesman, 19 June 1964)
     reprinted in The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice 
     and Other Classic Essays on Science 

I do not believe that there is any intrinsic limitation upon our ability to answer the questions that belong to the domain of natural knowledge and fall therefore within the agenda of scientific enquiry.
     Peter Medawar, On “the Effecting of All Things Possible” (1969)
     reprinted in The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice 
     and Other Classic Essays on Science 

The romantic view of the creative process of science as something cognate with poetic invention is often sneered at by people who pride themselves as shrewd, practical-minded men of the world with a sound sense of the value of money. But they don’t do any better than the rest of us, and it is they, indeed — people who believe that there is a cut and dried scientific method and that they can buy scientific results by paying for them — who are the incurable daydreamers with their heads in the clouds and no real understanding of the way the mind works.
     Peter Medawar, “The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice” 
     (New York Review of Books, 15 April 1976)
     reprinted in The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice 
     and Other Classic Essays on Science 

Before a good scientist tries to persuade others that he is on to something good, he must first convince himself.
     Peter Medawar, “Florey Story” (London 
     Review of Books
, 20 December 1979)
     reprinted in The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice 
     and Other Classic Essays on Science 

Simple observation generally gets us nowhere. It is the creative imagination that increases our understanding by finding connections between apparently unrelated phenomena, and forming logical, consistent theories to explain them. And if a theory turns out to be wrong, as many do, all is not lost. The struggle to create an imaginative, correct picture of reality frequently tells us where to go next, even when science has temporarily followed the wrong path.
     Richard Morris, The Universe, the Eleventh Dimension, and 
     Everything: What We Know and How We Know It 

Everybody thinks he’s being oh-so-deep when he says science doesn’t have all the answers. … Science does have all the answers … The problem is that we don’t have all the science.
     James Morrow, Only Begotten Daughter (1990)

As long as men are free to ask what they must, free to say what they think, free to think what they will, freedom can never be lost, and science can never regress.
     J. Robert Oppenheimer

If you are a scientist you believe that it is good to find out how the world works; that it is good to find out what the realities are; that it is good to turn over to mankind at large the greatest possible power to control the world. … It is not possible to be a scientist unless you believe that the knowledge of the world, and the power which this gives, is a thing which is of intrinsic value to humanity, and that you are using it to help in the spread of knowledge, and are willing to take the consequences.
     J. Robert Oppenheimer

There must be no barriers for freedom in inquiry. There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors.
     J. Robert Oppenheimer, Life magazine (October 10, 1949)

Taken as a story of human achievement, and human blindness, the discoveries in the sciences are among the great epics.
     Robert Oppenheimer, quoted in Richard Rhodes,
     The Making of the Atomic Bomb

Contemporary science, with its system and methods, can put blockheads (tontos) to good use.
     José Ortega y Gasset, Obras Completas. Revista de Occidente 19586, 143

There does not exist a category of science to which one can give the name applied science. There are science and the applications of science, bound together as the fruit of the tree which bears it.
     Louis Pasteur, “Pourquoi la France n’a pas trouvé d’hommes 
     supérieurs au moment du péril,” in Revue Scientifique (Paris, 1871)

Facts are the air of science. Without them a man of science can never rise. Without them your theories are vain surmises. But while you are studying, observing, experimenting, do not remain content with the surface of things. Do not become a mere recorder of facts, but try to penetrate the mystery of their origin. Seek obstinately for the laws that govern them.
     Ivan Pavlov, Bequest to the Academic Youth of Soviet Russia

There is one thing even more vital to science than intelligent methods; and that is, the sincere desire to find out the truth, whatever it may be.
     Charles Sanders Peirce

From Aristarchus to Einstein, the rule holds: a firm grip on any corner of physical reality is a grasp upon the whole.
     Gerard Piel, The Age of Science: What Scientists
     Learned in the 20th Century

Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.
     Max Planck

The only way for a new theory to become accepted is for adherents of the old theories to die.
     Max Planck

It is through science that we prove, but through intuition that we discover.
     Henri Poincare

Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve.
     Sir Karl Raimund Popper

The difference between the amoeba and Einstein is that, although both make use of the method of trial and error or elimination, the amoeba dislikes erring while Einstein is intrigued by it: he consciously searches for his errors in the hope of learning by their discovery and elimination.
     Sir Karl Raimund Popper, 1979, quoted in Science 1996271, 310

Science must begin with myths and the criticism of myths.
     Sir Karl Raimund Popper, Philosophy of Science (1950)

The history of science, like the history of all human ideas, is a history of irresponsible dreams, of obstinacy, and of error. But science is one of the very few human activities — perhaps the only one — in which the errors are systematically criticized and fairly often, in time, corrected.
     Sir Karl Raimund Popper, Conjectures and Refutations (1962)

I think the most important experience you have as an experimental scientist is realizing the extent to which you can be fooled, the extent to which your impulses and aspirations lead you to believe things which have nothing to do with the way things actually work.
     Mark Ptashne, quoted in Lewis Wolpert, The Unnatural Nature of Science (1993)

We don’t teach our students enough of the intellectual content of experiments — their novelty and their capacity for opening new fields. . . . My own view is that you take these things personally. You do an experiment because your own philosophy makes you want to know the result. It’s too hard, and life is too short, to spend your time doing something because someone else has said it’s important. You must feel the thing yourself.
     Isidor Isaac Rabi

The fuel on which science runs is ignorance. Science is like a hungry furnace that must be fed logs from the forests of ignorance that surround us. In the process, the clearing we call knowledge expands, but the more it expands, the longer its perimeter and the more ignorance comes into view. … A true scientist is bored by knowledge; it is the assault on ignorance that motivates him — the mysteries that previous discoveries have revealed. The forest is more interesting than the clearing.
     Matt Ridley, Genome: The Autobiography 
     of a Species in 23 Chapters 

It takes very little imagination to believe naively that anything is possible. Any ten-year-old child can believe this. It takes a great deal of knowledge to know what things are possible and what things are impossible.
     Milton A. Rothman, The Science Gap: Dispelling the 
     Myths and Understanding the Reality of Science 

A sense of beauty and proportion may assist in the initial creation of a theory, but no matter how beautiful a theory is, if it doesn’t work, it is not a good theory. If intuition were as all-important as is claimed, and if data were as unimportant, we might wonder why scientists have spent so many billions of dollars over the past several decades to build particle accelerators, particle detectors, telescopes of all kinds, and the rest of the paraphernalia of experimental science. The answer is simple: theory without empirical evidence is akin to art, poetry, literature, and music. It may have beauty and symmetry, but you don’t know that it has truth unless you compare what is inside your mind with that which is outside your mind.
     Milton A. Rothman, The Science Gap: Dispelling the 
     Myths and Understanding the Reality of Science 

The everyday usage of “theory” is for an idea whose outcome is as yet undetermined, a conjecture, or for an idea contrary to evidence. But scientists use the word in exactly the opposite sense. [In science] “theory” … refers only to a collection of hypotheses and predictions that is amenable to experimental test, preferably one that has been successfully tested. It has everything to do with the facts.
     Tony Rothman & George Sudarshan, Doubt and Certainty (1998)

Science deals exclusively with things as they are in themselves.
     John Ruskin

The work of science is to substitute facts for appearances, and demonstrations for impressions.
     John Ruskin

Although this may seem a paradox, all exact science is dominated by the idea of approximation. When a man tells you that he knows the exact truth about anything, you are safe in inferring that he is an inexact man.
     Bertrand Russell

[Whereas] in art nothing worth doing can be done without genius, in science even a very moderate capacity can contribute to a supreme achievement.
     Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic (1917)

It requires one genius to formulate one hypothesis that is sound. It requires ten to nail one that is unsound in its coffin.
     Ernest Rutherford

There is no other species on Earth that does science. It is, so far, entirely a human invention, evolved by natural selection in the cerebral cortex for one simple reason: it works. It is not perfect. It can be misused. It is only a tool. But it is by far the best tool we have, self-correcting, ongoing, applicable to everything.
     Carl Sagan

In a way, science might be described as paranoid thinking applied to Nature: we are looking for natural conspiracies, for connections among apparently disparate data.
     Carl Sagan, The Dragons of Eden: Speculations 
     on the Evolution of Human Intelligence 

If you spend any time spinning hypotheses, checking to see whether they make sense, whether they conform to what else we know, thinking of tests you can pose to substantiate or deflate your hypotheses, you will find yourself doing science. And as you come to practice this habit of thought more and more you will get better and better at it. To penetrate into the heart of the thing — even a little thing, a blade of grass, as Walt Whitman said — is to experience a kind of exhilaration that, it may be, only human beings of all the beings on this planet can feel. We are an intelligent species and the use of our intelligence quite properly gives us pleasure. In this respect the brain is like a muscle. When we think well, we feel good. Understanding is a kind of ecstasy.
     Carl Sagan, Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science (1979)
     “Can We Know The Universe? Reflections On A Grain Of Salt”

In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day.
     Carl Sagan, “The Burden Of Skepticism” (speech, 1987; 
     reprinted in Kendrick Frazier, ed., The Hundredth Monkey 
     and Other Paradigms of the Paranormal
, 1991)

Every human community has somehow or other tried to understand … deep questions of origins. Origin of our group, whatever it is, origin of our species, origin of life, origin of Earth, origin of the universe. I think you have to be made out of wood not to be interested in these questions. And there’s no way to understand even the questions, much less the answers, without understanding science.
     Carl Sagan, speech, national meeting of the American 
     Astronomical Society (January 5, 1993)

Science … looks skeptically at all claims to knowledge, old and new. It teaches not blind obedience to those in authority but vigorous debate, and in many respects that’s the secret of its success.
     Carl Sagan, speech, national meeting of the American 
     Astronomical Society (January 5, 1993)

Science demands a tolerance for ambiguity. Where we are ignorant, we withhold belief. Whatever annoyance the uncertainty engenders serves a higher purpose: It drives us to accumulate better data. This attitude is the difference between science and so much else. Science offers little in the way of cheap thrills. The standards of evidence are strict. But when followed they allow us to see far, illuminating even a great darkness.
     Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of 
     the Human Future in Space 

Popularizing science — trying to make its methods and findings accessible to non-scientists — then follows naturally and immediately. Not explaining science seems to me perverse. When you’re in love, you want to tell the world. This book is a personal statement, reflecting my lifelong love affair with science.
     Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: 
     Science As A Candle in the Dark 

The scientific way of thinking is at once imaginative and disciplined. This is central to its success. Science invites us to let the facts in, even when they don’t conform to our preconceptions. It counsels us to carry alternative hypotheses in our heads and see which best fit the facts. It urges on us a delicate balance between no-holds-barred openness to new ideas, however heretical, and the most rigorous skeptical scrutiny of everything — new ideas and established wisdom. This kind of thinking is also an essential tool for a democracy in an age of change.
     Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: 
     Science As A Candle in the Dark 

Humans may crave absolute certainty; they may aspire to it; they may pretend, as partisans of certain religions do, to have attained it. But the history of science — by far the most successful claim to knowledge accessible to humans — teaches that the most we can hope for is successive improvement in our understanding, learning from our mistakes, an asymptotic approach to the Universe, but with the proviso that absolute certainty will always elude us. We will always be mired in error. The most each generation can hope for is to reduce the error bars a little, and to add to the body of data to which error bars apply.
     Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: 
     Science As A Candle in the Dark 

Scientists do not seek to impose their needs and wants on Nature, but instead humbly interrogate Nature and take seriously what they find.
     Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: 
     Science As A Candle in the Dark 

Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to disproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder.
     Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: 
     Science As A Candle in the Dark 

We might have lived in a Universe in which nothing could be understood by a few simple laws, in which Nature was complex beyond our abilities to understand, in which laws that apply on Earth are invalid on Mars, or in a distant quasar. But the evidence — not the preconceptions, the evidence — proves otherwise. Luckily for us, we live in a Universe in which much can be “reduced” to a small number of comparatively simple laws of Nature. Otherwise we might have lacked the intellectual capacity and grasp to comprehend the world.
     Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: 
     Science As A Candle in the Dark 

Every scientist feels an affection for his or her ideas and scientific results. You feel protective of them. But you don’t reply to critics: “Wait a minute, wait a minute; this is a really good idea. I’m very fond of it. It’s done you no harm. Please don’t attack it.” That’s not the way it goes. The hard but just rule is that if the ideas don’t work, you must throw them away. Don’t waste any neurons on what doesn’t work. Devote those neurons to new ideas that better explain the data. Valid criticism is doing you a favor.
     Carl Sagan, “Wonder and Skepticism” 
     (Skeptical Inquirer, Jan/Feb 1995, p. 24)

Science involves a seemingly self-contradictory mix of attitudes: On the one hand, it requires an almost complete openness to all ideas, no matter how bizarre and weird they sound, a propensity to wonder. … But at the same time, science requires the most vigorous and uncompromising skepticism, because the vast majority of ideas are simply wrong, and the only way you can distinguish the right from the wrong, the wheat from the chaff, is by critical experiment and analysis.
     Carl Sagan, “Wonder and Skepticism” 
     (Skeptical Inquirer, Jan/Feb 1995, p. 24)

[First editor of the first scientific journal, writing in the first issue] Nobody should find it strange to see here opinions different from his own concerning the sciences, because we aim to report the ideas of others without guaranteeing them . . .
     Denis de Sallo, Journal des Scavans (1665)

The great intellectual division of mankind is not along geographical or racial lines, but between those who understand and practice the experimental method and those who do not understand and do not practice it.
     George Alfred Leon Sarton, in B. Farrington, 
     Science and Politics in the Ancient World 

The end result of the scientific method is the most reliable knowledge that humans can possess, although not necessarily ultimate, absolutely true knowledge (whatever that means), but that is good enough and better than the alternative.
     Steven D. Schafersman, “Naturalism is Today — 
     By History, Philosophy, and Purpose — 
     an Essential Part of Science” (1997)

Since we find it difficult to make a suitable model of a certain type, Nature must find it difficult too. This argument neglects the possibility that Nature may be cleverer than we are. It even neglects the possibility that we may be cleverer tomorrow than we are today.
     Dennis Sciama, quoted in Neil de Grasse Tyson, 
     “Galactic Engines” (Natural History, May 1997)

Shun no toil to make yourself remarkable by some talent or other; yet do not devote yourself to one branch exclusively. Strive to get clear notions about all. Give up no science entirely; for science is but one.
     Lucius Annaeus Seneca (the Younger)

What separates science from all other human activities (and morality has never been successfully placed on a scientific basis) is its commitment to the tentative nature of all its conclusions. There are no final answers in science, only varying degrees of probability. Even scientific “facts” are just conclusions confirmed to such an extent that it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement, but that assent is never final. Science is not the affirmation of a set of beliefs but a process of inquiry aimed at building a testable body of knowledge constantly open to rejection or confirmation. In science, knowledge is fluid and certainty fleeting. That is at the heart of its limitations. It is also its greatest strength.
     Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, 
     Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time 

Science, man’s greatest intellectual adventure, has rocked his faith and engendered dreams of a material Utopia. At its most abstract, science shades into philosophy; at its most practical, it cures disease. It has eased our lives and threatened our existence. It aspires, but in some very basic ways fails, to understand the ant and the Creation, the infinitesimal atom and the mind-bludgeoning immensity of the cosmos. It has laid its hand on the shoulders of poets and politicians, philosophers and charlatans. Its beauty is often apparent only to the initiated, its perils are generally misunderstood, its importance has been both over- and underestimated, and its fallibility, and that of those who create it, is often glossed over or malevolently exaggerated.
     Brian L. Silver, The Ascent of Science (1998), “Preface”

One point is incontestable: the “truth” of science must always remain open to critical scrutiny and will sometimes have the status of a beauty queen: looks good today, but next year she’ll be dethroned. That is because the real test of a scientific theory is not whether it is “true.” The real test is whether it works.
     Brian L. Silver, The Ascent of Science (1998)

The Big Questions may be beyond the capabilities of the human computer, just as dogs will never understand jokes. We understand a very great deal about what forces do but are far from finalizing the discussion about what forces are. Maybe we never will. Newton very specifically refused to commit himself as to what gravitational force was, but he nevertheless accounted for the movements of Earth and Moon and deduced the masses of the Earth and the Sun by knowing only what gravity does. We have discovered forces that Newton never knew, but basically we still only define force by what it does.
     Brian L. Silver, The Ascent of Science (1998)

… I certainly believe that some things may in principle be mysteries, but of what use is a hypothesis for explaining a mystery when the very hypothesis raises another mystery just as baffling as the one it explains?
     Raymond Smullyan, 5000 B.C. and Other Philosophical Fantasies (1983)

Every science begins by accumulating observations, and presently generalizes these empirically; but only when it reaches the stage at which its empirical generalizations are included in a rational generalization does it become developed science.
     Herbert Spencer

In science the important thing is to modify and change one’s ideas as science advances.
     Herbert Spencer

Only when genius is married to science, can the biggest results be produced.
     Herbert Spencer

Science increases our power in proportion as it lowers our pride.
     Herbert Spencer

Your science knowledge is obviously primitive.
     The Guardian of Forever, “The City on the Edge of Forever”
     STAR TREK:  The Original Series

Captain, the most elementary and valuable statement in science: The beginning of wisdom is “I do not know.”
     Data, “Where Silence Has Lease”
     STAR TREK:  The Next Generation

Well, when it comes to choosing between science and profit, I’ll choose profit every time.
     Vash, “Q-Less”
     STAR TREK:  Deep Space Nine

Who wanted to muck around in the dirt when you could be studying quantum mechanics?
     Captain Janeway, “Resolutions”
     STAR TREK:  Voyager

The use of Occam’s razor, along with the related critical, skeptical view toward any speculations about the unknown, is perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of the scientific method. People confuse doubt with denial. Science doesn’t deny anything, but it doubts everything not required by the data. Note, however, that doubt does not necessarily mean rejection, just an attitude of disbelief that can be changed when the facts require it.
     Victor J. Stenger, Physics and Psychics: The Search 
     for a World Beyond the Senses 

The fact that a theory may eventually test wrong does not detract from its original merit as a worthy try. On the other hand, if an idea is poorly formulated, often because the terms used are not clearly defined, then how can we even test it? … We cannot determine that gibberish is anything but gibberish.
     Victor J. Stenger, Physics and Psychics: The Search 
     for a World Beyond the Senses 

No one ever said science was easy, and nobody, scientist or not, should be expected to fall over and play dead when a challenge to existing knowledge is made. If a new idea has sufficient merit, it should ultimately overcome any resistance, no matter how strong. … Resistance to new ideas is part of the process of science. A worthy new idea must overcome barriers of doubt and skepticism, and even occasional irrational objections. But if an idea has merit, it will eventually climb over these barriers.
     Victor J. Stenger, Physics and Psychics: The Search 
     for a World Beyond the Senses 

Great physicists from Galileo to Einstein have clarified the meanings of space and time for us, not overthrown their basic conceptions nor declared them obsolete.
     Victor J. Stenger, Physics and Psychics: The Search 
     for a World Beyond the Senses 

It is better to emit a scream in the shape of a theory than to be entirely insensible to the jars and incongruities of life and take everything as it comes in a forlorn stupidity.
     Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque (1881)
     “Crabbed Age and Youth”

It’s amazing how long it can take to see the obvious. But of course it’s only obvious now.
     Ian Stewart, Nature’s Numbers: The Unreal 
     Reality of Mathematics 

And he gave it for his opinion, that whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together.
     Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels (1726)
     “A Voyage to Brobdingnag”

I am convinced that the story of the universe that has come out of three centuries of modern scientific work will be recognized as a supreme human achievement, the scientific enterprise’s central gift to humanity, a revelation having a status equal to that of the great religious revelations of the past.
     Brian Swimme, quoted in Evolution Extended: Biological 
     Debates on the Meaning of Life
 (Connie Barlow, ed.)

Science began by fumbling. It works because the people involved in it work, and work together. They become excited and exasperated, they exchange their bits of information at a full shout, and, the most wonderful thing of all, they keep at one another.
     Lewis Thomas, Late Night Thoughts on Listening 
     to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony 

The secret of science is to ask the right question, and it is the choice of problem more than anything else that marks the man of genius in the scientific world.
     Sir Henry Tizard, in C. P. Snow, A Postscript 
     to Science and Government 

Confronted with a major contradiction that seemed to be unresolvable, scientists did what they always do in those circumstances. They ignored the problem and hoped that somebody would eventually find out how to make it go away.
     James Trefil, Reading the Mind of God: In Search 
     of the Principle of Universality 

In science the primary duty of ideas is to be useful and interesting even more than to be “true.”
     Wilfred Trotter

There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesome returns of conjectures out of such trifling investment of fact.
     Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883)

Somehow, every time the magic of fol-de-rol tried conclusions with the magic of science, the magic of fol-de-rol got left.
     Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889)

“There’s another trouble about theories: there’s always a hole in them somewheres, sure, if you look close enough.”
     Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894)

But to explain the bug to the bug — that is quite a different matter. The bug may not know himself perfectly, but he knows himself better than the naturalist can know him, at any rate.
     Mark Twain, “What Paul Bourget Thinks Of Us” (1895)

Scientific evidence in support of a theory sometimes takes you places where your senses have never been. Twentieth-century science has largely been built upon data collected with all manner of tools that enable us to see the universe in decidedly uncommon ways. As a consequence, while we have always required that a theory make mathematical sense, we no longer require that a theory make common sense. We simply demand that it be consistent with the results of observations and experiments. … A well-constructed theory must explain some of what is not understood, predict previously unknown phenomena, and, to be successful, have its predictions consistently confirmed. Furthermore, skeptics should not hesitate to question every possible assumption, no matter how basic.
     Neil de Grasse Tyson, “In Defense of the Big Bang” 
     (Natural History, December 1996/January 1997, p. 76)

True science teaches, above all, to doubt and be ignorant.
     Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, The Tragic Sense of Life (1913)

The sciences do not try to explain, they hardly even try to interpret, they mainly make models. By a model is meant a mathematical construct which, with the addition of certain verbal interpretations, describes observed phenomena. The justification of such a mathematical construct is solely and precisely that it is expected to work.
     John von Neumann

It would be a poor thing to be an atom in a universe without physicists, and physicists are made of atoms. A physicist is an atom’s way of knowing about atoms.
     George Wald, foreword to L. J. Henderson, 
     The Fitness of the Environment (1959)

I think that is one of the great things about physics, that it is sufficiently precise that it makes predictions which can be disproved by observation, and which occasionally are. And, when you have that experience, you know that there is something out there that is not all just coming out of your closed society of fellow physicists. It’s, I think, one of the things that I love so much about physics, the dialogue with nature; and this dialogue is not one in which nature always agrees with the physicists.
     Steven Weinberg, “Does Physics Describe Reality?” 
     (from Hypermind CD-ROM, The Challenge of the Universe)

Scientists have discovered many peculiar things, and many beautiful things. But perhaps the most beautiful and the most peculiar thing that they have discovered is the pattern of science itself. Our scientific discoveries are not independent isolated facts; one scientific generalization finds its explanation in another, which is itself explained by yet another. By tracing these arrows of explanation back toward their source we have discovered a striking convergent pattern — perhaps the deepest thing we have yet learned about the universe.
     Steven Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist’s 
     Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature 

The whole story is a nice illustration of a half-serious maxim attributed to Eddington: One should never believe any experiment until it has been confirmed by theory.
     Steven Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist’s 
     Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature 

Our theories are very esoteric — necessarily so, because we are forced to develop these theories using a language, the language of mathematics, that has not become part of the general equipment of the educated public. Physicists generally do not like the fact that our theories arc so esoteric. On the other hand, I have occasionally heard artists talk proudly about their work being accessible only to a band of cognoscenti and justify this attitude by quoting the example of physical theories like general relativity that also can be understood only by initiates. Artists like physicists may not always be able to make themselves understood by the general public, but esotericism for its own sake is just silly.
     Steven Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory: The Scientist’s 
     Search for the Ultimate Laws of Nature 

The skepticism of science is famous, but not so widely known is its optimism. One might even suggest that creative work spans a wider spectrum than most activities between the hopeful and the critical, between proliferation and selection.
     John Archibald Wheeler, At Home in the Universe

There is a mask of theory over the whole face of nature.
     William Whewell, The Philosophy of the 
     Inductive Sciences 
(1840, 1847)

The aims of scientific thought are to see the general in the particular and the eternal in the transitory.
     Alfred North Whitehead

The aim of science is to seek the simplest explanations of complex facts. We are apt to fall into the error of thinking that the facts are simple because simplicity is the goal of our quest. The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be, “Seek simplicity and distrust it.”
     Alfred North Whitehead, The Concept of Nature (1920)

So far as modern science is concerned, we have to abandon completely the idea that by going into the realm of the small we shall reach the ultimate foundations of the universe. I believe we can abandon this idea without any regret. The universe is infinite in all directions, not only above us in the large but also below us in the small.
     Ernst Emil Wiechert

The simplicites of natural laws arise through the complexities of the languages we use for their expression.
     Eugene Paul Wigner, Communications on Pure 
     and Applied Mathematics 
195913, 1

… the mission to the Descartes Highlands [Apollo 16] illustrated once again that science advances most when its predictions prove wrong.
     Don E. Wilhelms, To a Rocky Moon: A Geologist’s 
     History of Lunar Exploration

[Occam’s Razor] Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem.
It is vain to do with more what can be done with less.
     William of Occam

I had experienced the Ionian Enchantment. That recently coined expression I borrow from the physicist and historian Gerald Holton. It means a belief in the unity of the sciences — a conviction, far deeper than a mere working proposition, that the world is orderly and can be explained by a small number of natural laws. … The idea of the unity of science is not idle. It has been tested in acid baths of experiment and logic and enjoyed repeated vindication. It has suffered no decisive defeats. At least not yet, even though at its center, by the very nature of the scientific method, it must be thought always vulnerable.
     Edward O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998)

Scientific ideas are, with rare exceptions, counter-intuitive: they cannot be acquired by simple inspection of phenomena and are often outside everyday experience.
     Lewis Wolpert, The Unnatural Nature of Science (1993)

The enormous conceptual change that the thinking of Galileo required shows that science is not just about accounting for the ‘unfamiliar’ in terms of the familiar. Quite the contrary: science often explains the familiar in terms of the unfamiliar.
     Lewis Wolpert, The Unnatural Nature of Science (1993)

Scientific beauty is not easy to define, but it is related to simplicity, elegance and above all the surprise in finding a novel way of doing an experiment or a theory which explains things in a new way.
     Lewis Wolpert, The Unnatural Nature of Science (1993)

As [science journalist Philip J.] Hilts puts it, the chief experience of science is failure.
     Lewis Wolpert, The Unnatural Nature of Science (1993)

Although social processes play a role in science, scientists change theories because the new ones provide a better correspondence with reality; because, like Darwin’s theory of evolution, they provide a better explanation of the world. While the initial stages of acceptance of one or other of competing theories may have a strong social aspect that involves fashion, power groupings and so on, the main criterion will eventually be how well the theory explains the phenomena.
     Lewis Wolpert, The Unnatural Nature of Science (1993)

There is only one nature — the division into science and engineering is a human imposition, not a natural one. Indeed, the division is a human failure; it reflects our limited capacity to comprehend the whole.
     Bill Wulf


Categories: Quote, Science

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