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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index L > Pierre-Simon Laplace Quotes > Cause

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Pierre-Simon Laplace
(23 Mar 1749 - 5 Mar 1827)

French mathematician, physicist, statistician and astronomer , known for his exact approach to science, who developed mathematical probability theory and suggested the name 'meter' as the metric unit measurement.

Pierre-Simon Laplace Quotes on Cause (7 quotes)

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I am particularly concerned to determine the probability of causes and results, as exhibited in events that occur in large numbers, and to investigate the laws according to which that probability approaches a limit in proportion to the repetition of events. That investigation deserves the attention of mathematicians because of the analysis required. It is primarily there that the approximation of formulas that are functions of large numbers has its most important applications. The investigation will benefit observers in identifying the mean to be chosen among the results of their observations and the probability of the errors still to be apprehended. Lastly, the investigation is one that deserves the attention of philosophers in showing how in the final analysis there is a regularity underlying the very things that seem to us to pertain entirely to chance, and in unveiling the hidden but constant causes on which that regularity depends. It is on the regularity of the main outcomes of events taken in large numbers that various institutions depend, such as annuities, tontines, and insurance policies. Questions about those subjects, as well as about inoculation with vaccine and decisions of electoral assemblies, present no further difficulty in the light of my theory. I limit myself here to resolving the most general of them, but the importance of these concerns in civil life, the moral considerations that complicate them, and the voluminous data that they presuppose require a separate work.
— Pierre-Simon Laplace
Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1825), trans. Andrew I. Dale (1995), Introduction.
Science quotes on:  |  Analysis (123)  |  Application (117)  |  Approximation (16)  |  Cause (231)  |  Chance (122)  |  Complication (20)  |  Concern (76)  |  Data (100)  |  Determine (45)  |  Difficulty (113)  |  Error (230)  |  Event (97)  |  Formula (51)  |  Function (90)  |  Government (85)  |  Inoculation (8)  |  Institution (32)  |  Insurance (9)  |  Investigation (123)  |  Law (418)  |  Limit (86)  |  Mathematician (177)  |  Mean (63)  |  Morality (33)  |  Outcome (10)  |  Philosopher (132)  |  Probability (83)  |  Proportion (47)  |  Regularity (24)  |  Result (250)  |  Theory (582)  |  Vaccine (8)

If an event can be produced by a number n of different causes, the probabilities of the existence of these causes, given the event (prises de l'événement), are to each other as the probabilities of the event, given the causes: and the probability of each cause is equal to the probability of the event, given that cause, divided by the sum of all the probabilities of the event, given each of the causes.
— Pierre-Simon Laplace
'Mémoire sur la Probabilité des Causes par les Événements' (1774). In Oeuvres complètes de Laplace, 14 Vols. (1843-1912), Vol. 8, 29, trans. Charles Coulston Gillispie, Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827: A Life in Exact Science (1997), 16.
Science quotes on:  |  Cause (231)  |  Chance (122)  |  Event (97)  |  Probability (83)

The present state of the system of nature is evidently a consequence of what it was in the preceding moment, and if we conceive of an intelligence that at a given instant comprehends all the relations of the entities of this universe, it could state the respective position, motions, and general affects of all these entities at any time in the past or future. Physical astronomy, the branch of knowledge that does the greatest honor to the human mind, gives us an idea, albeit imperfect, of what such an intelligence would be. The simplicity of the law by which the celestial bodies move, and the relations of their masses and distances, permit analysis to follow their motions up to a certain point; and in order to determine the state of the system of these great bodies in past or future centuries, it suffices for the mathematician that their position and their velocity be given by observation for any moment in time. Man owes that advantage to the power of the instrument he employs, and to the small number of relations that it embraces in its calculations. But ignorance of the different causes involved in the production of events, as well as their complexity, taken together with the imperfection of analysis, prevents our reaching the same certainty about the vast majority of phenomena. Thus there are things that are uncertain for us, things more or less probable, and we seek to compensate for the impossibility of knowing them by determining their different degrees of likelihood. So it was that we owe to the weakness of the human mind one of the most delicate and ingenious of mathematical theories, the science of chance or probability.
— Pierre-Simon Laplace
'Recherches, 1º, sur l'Intégration des Équations Différentielles aux Différences Finies, et sur leur Usage dans la Théorie des Hasards' (1773, published 1776). In Oeuvres complètes de Laplace, 14 Vols. (1843-1912), Vol. 8, 144-5, trans. Charles Coulston Gillispie, Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827: A Life in Exact Science (1997), 26.
Science quotes on:  |  Analysis (123)  |  Astronomy (175)  |  Calculation (67)  |  Celestial (15)  |  Certainty (97)  |  Chance (122)  |  Complexity (80)  |  Difference (208)  |  Distance (54)  |  Event (97)  |  Honour (23)  |  Human Mind (51)  |  Ignorance (190)  |  Impossibility (50)  |  Instrument (73)  |  Intelligence (138)  |  Knowledge (1128)  |  Law (418)  |  Likelihood (8)  |  Mass (61)  |  Mathematician (177)  |  Motion (127)  |  Nature (1029)  |  Observation (418)  |  Phenomenon (218)  |  Position (54)  |  Prediction (67)  |  Probability (83)  |  Relation (96)  |  Simplicity (126)  |  Theory (582)  |  Time (439)  |  Uncertainty (37)  |  Universe (563)  |  Velocity (14)  |  Weakness (31)

The simplicity of nature is not to be measured by that of our conceptions. Infinitely varied in its effects, nature is simple only in its causes, and its economy consists in producing a great number of phenomena, often very complicated, by means of a small number of general laws.
— Pierre-Simon Laplace
Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1825), trans. Andrew I. Dale (1995), book 1, chap. 14.
Science quotes on:  |  Cause (231)  |  Complicated (38)  |  Conception (63)  |  Economy (46)  |  Effect (133)  |  Law (418)  |  Nature (1029)  |  Phenomenon (218)  |  Simplicity (126)  |  Variation (50)

The word 'chance' then expresses only our ignorance of the causes of the phenomena that we observe to occur and to succeed one another in no apparent order. Probability is relative in part to this ignorance, and in part to our knowledge.
— Pierre-Simon Laplace
'Mémoire sur les Approximations des Formules qui sont Fonctions de Très Grands Nombres' (1783, published 1786). In Oeuvres complète de Laplace, 14 Vols. (1843-1912), Vol. 10, 296, trans. Charles Coulston Gillispie, Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827: A Life in Exact Science (1997), 91.
Science quotes on:  |  Chance (122)  |  Ignorance (190)  |  Knowledge (1128)  |  Observation (418)  |  Order (167)  |  Probability (83)

Thus the system of the world only oscillates around a mean state from which it never departs except by a very small quantity. By virtue of its constitution and the law of gravity, it enjoys a stability that can be destroyed only by foreign causes, and we are certain that their action is undetectable from the time of the most ancient observations until our own day. This stability in the system of the world, which assures its duration, is one of the most notable among all phenomena, in that it exhibits in the heavens the same intention to maintain order in the universe that nature has so admirably observed on earth for the sake of preserving individuals and perpetuating species.
— Pierre-Simon Laplace
'Sur l'Équation Séculaire de la Lune' (1786, published 1788). In Oeuvres complètes de Laplace, 14 Vols. (1843-1912), Vol. 11, 248-9, trans. Charles Coulston Gillispie, Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827: A Life in Exact Science (1997), 145.
Science quotes on:  |  Action (151)  |  Ancient (68)  |  Cause (231)  |  Certainty (97)  |  The Constitution of the United States (7)  |  Destroy (63)  |  Duration (9)  |  Exhibit (12)  |  Foreign (20)  |  Gravity (89)  |  Heaven (118)  |  Individual (177)  |  Intention (25)  |  Law (418)  |  Maintain (22)  |  Mean (63)  |  Nature (1029)  |  Observation (418)  |  Order (167)  |  Oscillation (6)  |  Perpetuate (5)  |  Phenomenon (218)  |  Preservation (28)  |  Species (181)  |  Stability (17)  |  State (96)  |  System (141)  |  Time (439)  |  Undetectable (2)  |  Universe (563)  |  World (667)

We ought then to consider the present state of the universe as the effect of its previous state and as the cause of that which is to follow. An intelligence that, at a given instant, could comprehend all the forces by which nature is animated and the respective situation of the beings that make it up, if moreover it were vast enough to submit these data to analysis, would encompass in the same formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the lightest atoms. For such an intelligence nothing would be uncertain, and the future, like the past, would be open to its eyes.
— Pierre-Simon Laplace
Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1814), 5th edition (1825), trans. Andrew I. Dale (1995), 2.
Science quotes on:  |  Analysis (123)  |  Animation (3)  |  Atom (251)  |  Cause (231)  |  Data (100)  |  Force (194)  |  Formula (51)  |  Future (229)  |  Intelligence (138)  |  Movement (65)  |  Nature (1029)  |  Past (109)  |  State (96)  |  Uncertainty (37)  |  Universe (563)

See also:

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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