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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index B > Claude Bernard Quotes > Mind

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Claude Bernard
(12 Jul 1813 - 10 Feb 1878)

French physiologist who helped establish the principles of experimentation in the life sciences. His Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865) is a scientific classic.



Ardent desire for knowledge, in fact, is the one motive attracting and supporting investigators in their efforts; and just this knowledge, really grasped and yet always flying before them, becomes at once their sole torment and their sole happiness. Those who do not know the torment of the unknown cannot have the joy of discovery which is certainly the liveliest that the mind of man can ever feel.
— Claude Bernard
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 221-222.
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Even mistaken hypotheses and theories are of use in leading to discoveries. This remark is true in all the sciences. The alchemists founded chemistry by pursuing chimerical problems and theories which are false. In physical science, which is more advanced than biology, we might still cite men of science who make great discoveries by relying on false theories. It seems, indeed, a necessary weakness of our mind to be able to reach truth only across a multitude of errors and obstacles.
— Claude Bernard
An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865, translation 1927, 1957), 170.
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In every enterprise … the mind is always reasoning, and, even when we seem to act without a motive, an instinctive logic still directs the mind. Only we are not aware of it, because we begin by reasoning before we know or say that we are reasoning, just as we begin by speaking before we observe that we are speaking, and just as we begin by seeing and hearing before we know what we see or what we hear.
— Claude Bernard
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 146.
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It has often been said that, to make discoveries, one must be ignorant. This opinion, mistaken in itself, nevertheless conceals a truth. It means that it is better to know nothing than to keep in mind fixed ideas based on theories whose confirmation we constantly seek, neglecting meanwhile everything that fails to agree with them.
— Claude Bernard
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 37.
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Man is naturally metaphysical and arrogant, and is thus capable of believing that the ideal creations of his mind, which express his feelings, are identical with reality. From this it follows that the experimental method is not really natural to him.
— Claude Bernard
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Speaking concretely, when we say “making experiments or making observations,” we mean that we devote ourselves to investigation and to research, that we make attempts and trials in order to gain facts from which the mind, through reasoning, may draw knowledge or instruction.
Speaking in the abstract, when we say “relying on observation and gaining experience,” we mean that observation is the mind's support in reasoning, and experience the mind's support in deciding, or still better, the fruit of exact reasoning applied to the interpretation of facts. It follows from this that we can gain experience without making experiments, solely by reasoning appropriately about well- established facts, just as we can make experiments and observations without gaining experience, if we limit ourselves to noting facts.
Observation, then, is what shows facts; experiment is what teaches about facts and gives experience in relation to anything.
— Claude Bernard
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 11.
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The better educated we are and the more acquired information we have, the better prepared shall we find our minds for making great and fruitful discoveries.
— Claude Bernard
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 38.
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The great experimental principle, then, is doubt, that philosophic doubt which leaves to the mind its freedom and initiative, and from which the virtues most valuable to investigators in physiology and medicine are derived.
— Claude Bernard
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 37.
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The minds that rise and become really great are never self-satisfied, but still continue to strive.
— Claude Bernard
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 222.
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We must keep our freedom of mind, … and must believe that in nature what is absurd, according to our theories, is not always impossible.
— Claude Bernard
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 38.
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We must remain, in a word, in an intellectual disposition which seems paradoxical, but which, in my opinion, represents the true mind of the investigator. We must have a robust faith and yet not believe.
[Often seen summarized as: The investigator should have a robust faith—and yet not believe.]
— Claude Bernard
Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865). In Alan S. Weber, Nineteenth Century Science: a Selection of Original Texts (2000), 333.
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We see, then, that the elements of the scientific method are interrelated. Facts are necessary materials; but their working up by experimental reasoning, i.e., by theory, is what establishes and really builds up science. Ideas, given form by facts, embody science. A scientific hypothesis is merely a scientific idea, preconceived or previsioned. A theory is merely a scientific idea controlled by experiment. Reasoning merely gives a form to our ideas, so that everything, first and last, leads back to an idea. The idea is what establishes, as we shall see, the starting point or the primum movens of all scientific reasoning, and it is also the goal in the mind's aspiration toward the unknown.
— Claude Bernard
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 26.
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See also:
  • 12 Jul - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Bernard's birth.
  • Claude Bernard - context of quote The alchemists founded chemistry - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Claude Bernard - context of quote “The alchemists founded chemistry” - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Claude Bernard - context of quote The experimenter - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Claude Bernard - context of quote The experimenter - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Claude Bernard - context of quote Make experiments to … control our ideas - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Claude Bernard - context of quote Make experiments to … control our ideas - Large image (800 x 600 px)

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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