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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index W > Alfred North Whitehead Quotes

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Alfred North Whitehead
(15 Feb 1861 - 30 Dec 1947)

English mathematician and philosopher.


Science Quotes by Alfred North Whitehead (26 quotes)

A science which hesitates to forget its founders is lost.
— Alfred North Whitehead
Address to the British Association, Newcastle. 'The Organisation of Thought,' printed in Nature (28 Sep 1916), 98, 80.
Science quotes on:  |  Forget (10)  |  Founder (8)  |  Hesitate (2)  |  Lost (11)  |  Science (875)

Aristotle discovered all the half-truths which were necessary to the creation of science.
— Alfred North Whitehead
From Dialogue XLII in Alfred North Whitehead and Lucien Price (ed.), Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead (1954, 1977), 344.
Science quotes on:  |  Aristotle (101)  |  Discovery (360)  |  Science (875)  |  Truth (450)

Every philosophy is tinged with the colouring of some secret imaginative background, which never emerges explicitly into its train of reasoning.
— Alfred North Whitehead
In Science and the Modern World (1925), 7.
Science quotes on:  |  Background (13)  |  Colour (32)  |  Emerge (4)  |  Imaginative (2)  |  Never (19)  |  Philosophy (132)  |  Reasoning (56)  |  Tinge (2)  |  Train (8)

Familiar things happen, and mankind does not bother about them. It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.
— Alfred North Whitehead
In Science and the Modern World (1925, 1997), 4.
Science quotes on:  |  Analysis (82)  |  Mind (272)  |  Obvious (24)  |  Requirement (27)  |  Undertake (5)  |  Unusual (4)

In formal logic a contradiction is the signal of a defeat, but in the evolution of real knowledge it marks the first step in progress toward a victory.
— Alfred North Whitehead
In 'Religion and Science', The Atlantic (Aug 1925).
Science quotes on:  |  Knowledge (679)  |  Logic (132)  |  Progress (200)

In the conditions of modern life the rule is absolute, the race which does not value trained intelligence is doomed. Not all your heroism, not all your social charm, not all your wit, not all your victories on land or at sea, can move back the finger of fate. To-day we maintain ourselves. To-morrow science will have moved forward yet one more step, and there will be no appeal from the judgment which will then be pronounced on the uneducated.
— Alfred North Whitehead
'The Aims of Education—a Plea for Reform', Organiasation of Thought (1917, reprinted 1974), 28.
Science quotes on:  |  Education (177)

Inventive genius requires pleasurable mental activity as a condition for its vigorous exercise. “Necessity is the mother of invention” is a silly proverb. “Necessity is the mother of futile dodges” is much closer to the truth. The basis of growth of modern invention is science, and science is almost wholly the outgrowth of pleasurable intellectual curiosity.
— Alfred North Whitehead
The Aims of Education and other Essays (1929, 1967), 45.
Science quotes on:  |  Curiosity (52)  |  Dodge (2)  |  Futile (3)  |  Genius (92)  |  Intellect (99)  |  Invention (174)  |  Mother (25)  |  Necessity (78)  |  Pleasure (52)  |  Progress (200)  |  Proverb (18)

It does not matter what men say in words, so long as their activities are controlled by settled instincts. The words may ultimately destroy the instincts. But until this has occurred, words do not count.
— Alfred North Whitehead
In Science and the Modern World (1925), 4.
Science quotes on:  |  Activity (48)  |  Control (41)  |  Count (15)  |  Destroy (15)  |  Instinct (24)  |  Man (258)  |  Matter (135)  |  Occur (8)  |  Say (10)  |  Settle (4)  |  Ultimately (3)  |  Word (97)

It is impossible not to feel stirred at the thought of the emotions of man at certain historic moments of adventure and discovery—Columbus when he first saw the Western shore, Pizarro when he stared at the Pacific Ocean, Franklin when the electric spark came from the string of his kite, Galileo when he first turned his telescope to the heavens. Such moments are also granted to students in the abstract regions of thought, and high among them must be placed the morning when Descartes lay in bed and invented the method of co-ordinate geometry.
— Alfred North Whitehead
Quoted in James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (2000), Vol. 1, 239.
Science quotes on:  |  Abstract (19)  |  Adventure (19)  |  Christopher Columbus (10)  |  Renι Descartes (32)  |  Discovery (360)  |  Electricity (82)  |  Emotion (28)  |  Benjamin Franklin (65)  |  Galileo Galilei (64)  |  Heaven (55)  |  Invention (174)  |  Kite (2)  |  Moment (21)  |  Pacific Ocean (2)  |  Shore (7)  |  Spark (9)  |  String (11)  |  Student (54)  |  Telescope (44)  |  Thought (170)

It is rigid dogma that destroys truth; and, please notice, my emphasis is not on the dogma, but on the rigidity. When men say of any question, “This is all there is to be known or said of the subject; investigation ends here,” that is death. It may be that the mischief comes not from the thinker but for the use made of his thinking by late-comers. Aristotle, for example, gave us out scientific technique ... yet his logical propositions, his instruction in sound reasoning which was bequeathed to Europe, are valid only within the limited framework of formal logic, and, as used in Europe, they stultified the minds of whole generations of mediaeval Schoolmen. Aristotle invented science, but destroyed philosophy.
— Alfred North Whitehead
Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead, as recorded by Lucien Price (1954, 2001), 165.
Science quotes on:  |  Aristotle (101)  |  Dogma (13)  |  Instruction (13)  |  Investigation (83)  |  Logic (132)  |  Philosophy (132)  |  Question (159)  |  Rigidity (3)  |  Scientific Method (101)  |  Thought (170)

It is the business of the future to be dangerous; and it is among the merits of science that it equips the future for its duties.
— Alfred North Whitehead
Science and the Modern World: Lowell Lectures, 1925 (1925), 291.
Science quotes on:  |  Business (27)  |  Dangerous (11)  |  Duty (26)  |  Future (110)  |  Merit (14)  |  Science (875)

Let us grant that the pursuit of mathematics is a divine madness of the human spirit, a refuge from the goading urgency of contingent happenings.
— Alfred North Whitehead
From 'Mathematics as an Element in the History of Thought' in James R. Newman, The World of Mathematics (1957), Vol. 1, 403.
Science quotes on:  |  Contingent (4)  |  Divine (17)  |  Grant (8)  |  Happening (23)  |  Human (168)  |  Madness (15)  |  Mathematics (367)  |  Pursuit (34)  |  Refuge (5)  |  Spirit (52)  |  Urgency (6)

No man of science wants merely to know. He acquires knowledge to appease his passion for discovery. He does not discover in order to know, he knows in order to discover.
— Alfred North Whitehead
The Aims of Education and Other Essays (1967), 48.
Science quotes on:  |  Discovery (360)  |  Knowledge (679)  |  Men Of Science (90)  |  Quip (68)

Order is not sufficient. What is required, is something much more complex. It is order entering upon novelty; so that the massiveness of order does not degenerate into mere repetition; and so that the novelty is always reflected upon a background of system.
— Alfred North Whitehead
Alfred North Whitehead, David Ray Griffin (ed.), Donald W. Sherburne (ed.), Process and Reality: an Essay in Cosmology (2nd Ed.,1979), 339.
Science quotes on:  |  Chaos (33)  |  Complexity (51)  |  Degenerate (2)  |  Novelty (9)  |  Order (60)  |  Repetition (18)  |  Requirement (27)  |  Sufficient (8)  |  System (66)

Our minds are finite, and yet even in these circumstances of finitude we are surrounded by possibilities that are infinite, and the purpose of human life is to grasp as much as we can out of the infinitude.
— Alfred North Whitehead
Dialogue 21 (28 Jun 1941). Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead (1954, 2001) 160.
Science quotes on:  |  Finite (13)  |  Infinite (39)  |  Life (460)  |  Mind (272)

Periods of tranquillity are seldom prolific of creative achievement. Mankind has to be stirred up.
— Alfred North Whitehead
From Dialogue XIX in Alfred North Whitehead and Lucien Price (ed.), Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead (1954, 1977), 154.
Science quotes on:  |  Achievement (73)  |  Creative (8)  |  Mankind (111)  |  Period (24)  |  Prolific (2)  |  Seldom (10)  |  Tranquility (3)

Religion will not regain its old power until it can face change in the same spirit as does science.
— Alfred North Whitehead
The Atlantic (Aug 1925). In Evan Esar, 20,000 Quips and Quotes, 704
Science quotes on:  |  Science And Religion (159)

The true method of discovery is like the flight of an aeroplane. It starts from the ground of particular observation; it makes a flight in the thin air of imaginative generalization; and it again lands for renewed observation rendered acute by rational interpretation.
— Alfred North Whitehead
Gifford lectures delivered in the University of Edinburgh during the session 1927-28. Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (1929, 1979), 5.
Science quotes on:  |  Acute (3)  |  Air (84)  |  Airplane (16)  |  Discovery (360)  |  Flight (29)  |  Generalization (16)  |  Ground (18)  |  Imagination (130)  |  Interpretation (38)  |  Method (73)  |  Observation (264)  |  Particular (24)  |  Rational (18)  |  Renew (3)  |  True (29)

The vitality of thought is in adventure. Idea's won't keep. Something must be done about them. When the idea is new, its custodians have fervour, live for it, and, if need be, die for it. Their inheritors receive the idea, perhaps now strong and successful, but without inheriting the fervour; so the idea settles down to a comfortable middle age, turns senile, and dies.
— Alfred North Whitehead
In Alfred North Whitehead and Lucien Price (ed.), Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead (1954, 1977), 100.
Science quotes on:  |  Adventure (19)  |  Comfortable (2)  |  Custodian (2)  |  Die (5)  |  Do (19)  |  Idea (226)  |  Inherit (2)  |  Keep (9)  |  Live (14)  |  Middle Age (5)  |  Settle (4)  |  Strong (8)  |  Successful (5)  |  Thought (170)  |  Vitality (7)

The way in which the persecution of Galileo has been remembered is a tribute to the quiet commencement of the most intimate change in outlook which the human race had yet encountered. Since a babe was born in a manger, it may be doubted whether so great a thing has happened with so little stir
— Alfred North Whitehead
In Science and the Modern World (1925), 2.
Science quotes on:  |  Baby (6)  |  Birth (47)  |  Change (133)  |  Commencement (3)  |  Encounter (7)  |  Galileo Galilei (64)  |  Great (62)  |  Human Race (29)  |  Intimate (4)  |  Outlook (8)  |  Persecution (5)  |  Quiet (3)  |  Remember (19)  |  Stir (5)  |  Tribute (3)

There is a tradition of opposition between adherents of induction and of deduction. In my view it would be just as sensible for the two ends of a worm to quarrel.
— Alfred North Whitehead
From address to the Mathematical and Physical Science Section of the British Association, Newcastle-on-Tyne (1916). In The Chemical News and Journal of Physical Science (22 Sep 1916), 142.114, No. 2965,
Science quotes on:  |  Adherent (2)  |  Deduction (39)  |  End (51)  |  Induction (22)  |  Opposition (22)  |  Quarrel (6)  |  Sensible (11)  |  Tradition (17)  |  Worm (12)

To come very near to a true theory, and to grasp its precise application, are two different things, as the history of science teaches us. Everything of importance has been said before by someone who did not discover it.
— Alfred North Whitehead
In The Interpretation of Science: Selected Essays (1961), 33.
Science quotes on:  |  Application (72)  |  Discovery (360)  |  Everything (38)  |  History Of Science (34)  |  Importance (106)  |  Someone (4)  |  Theory (353)  |  Truth (450)

What is peculiar and new to the [19th] century, differentiating it from all its predecessors, is its technology. It was not merely the introduction of some great isolated inventions. It is impossible not to feel that something more than that was involved. ... The process of change was slow, unconscious, and unexpected. In the nineteeth century, the process became quick, conscious, and expected. ... The whole change has arisen from the new scientific information. Science, conceived not so much in its principles as in its results, is an obvious storehouse of ideas for utilisation. ... Also, it is a great mistake to think that the bare scientific idea is the required invention, so that it has only to be picked up and used. An intense period of imaginative design lies between. One element in the new method is just the discovery of how to set about bridging the gap between the scientific ideas, and the ultimate product. It is a process of disciplined attack upon one difficulty after another This discipline of knowledge applies beyond technology to pure science, and beyond science to general scholarship. It represents the change from amateurs to professionals. ... But the full self-conscious realisation of the power of professionalism in knowledge in all its departments, and of the way to produce the professionals, and of the importance of knowledge to the advance of technology, and of the methods by which abstract knowledge can be connected with technology, and of the boundless possibilities of technological advance,—the realisation of all these things was first completely attained in the nineteeth century.
— Alfred North Whitehead
In Science and the Modern World (1925, 1997), 96.
Science quotes on:  |  19th Century (8)  |  Amateur (8)  |  Boundless (6)  |  Change (133)  |  Conscious (5)  |  Design (37)  |  Differentiate (3)  |  Expected (2)  |  Ideal (26)  |  Imagination (130)  |  Information (56)  |  Invention (174)  |  Isolated (5)  |  Peculiar (10)  |  Predecessor (13)  |  Professional (10)  |  Realisation (2)  |  Scholarship (5)  |  Storehouse (2)  |  Technology (98)  |  Unconscious (8)  |  Unexpected (13)

Whenever a text-book is written of real educational worth, you may be quite certain that some reviewer will say that it will be difficult to teach from it. Of course it will be difficult to teach from it. It it were easy, the book ought to be burned.
— Alfred North Whitehead
The Aims of Education and Other Essays (1967), 5.
Science quotes on:  |  Book (100)  |  Education (177)

Without adventure civilization is in full decay. ... The great fact [is] that in their day the great achievements of the past were the adventures of the past.
— Alfred North Whitehead
In Adventures of Ideas (1933), 36.
Science quotes on:  |  Achievement (73)  |  Adventure (19)  |  Civilization (90)  |  Decay (19)  |  Fact (325)  |  Full (10)  |  Great (62)  |  Past (42)

Without deductive logic science would be entirely useless. It is merely a barren game to ascend from the particular to the general, unless afterwards we can reverse the process and descend from the general to the particular, ascending and descending like angels on Jacob's ladder.
— Alfred North Whitehead
The Aims of Education and Other Essays (1967), 52.
Science quotes on:  |  Logic (132)  |  Science (875)


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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would 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. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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