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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 Nature (11 quotes)

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Tous les effets de la nature ne sont que résultats mathématiques d'un petit noinbre de lois immuables.
All the effects of Nature are only the mathematical consequences of a small number of immutable laws.
— Pierre-Simon Laplace
From the original French in Oeuvres de Laplace, Vol. VII: Théorie des probabilités (1847), Introduction, cliv.
Science quotes on:  |  Law (418)  |  Mathematics (587)

Une intelligence qui, pour un instant donné, connaîtrait toutes les forces dont la nature est animée, et la situation respective des êtres qui la composent, si d’ailleurs elle était assez vaste pour soumettre ces données a l’analyse, embrasserait dans la même formula les mouvements des plus grand corps de l’univers et ceux du plus léger atome: rien ne serait incertain pour elle, et l’avenir comme le passé serait présent à ses yeux.
Given for one instant an intelligence which could comprehend all the forces by which nature is animated and the respective situation of the beings which compose it—an intelligence sufficiently vast to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in the same formula the movements of the greatest bodies in the universe and those of the lightest atom; to it nothing would be uncertain, and the future as the past would be present to its eyes.
— Pierre-Simon Laplace
Introduction to Oeuvres vol. VII, Theorie Analytique de Probabilites (1812-1820). As translated by Frederick Wilson Truscott and Frederick Lincoln Emory in A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1902), 4. [LaPlace is here expressing his belief in causal determinism.]
Science quotes on:  |  Law (418)  |  Mathematics (587)

It is interesting thus to follow the intellectual truths of analysis in the phenomena of nature. This correspondence, of which the system of the world will offer us numerous examples, makes one of the greatest charms attached to mathematical speculations.
— Pierre-Simon Laplace
Exposition du système du monde (1799)
Science quotes on:  |  Law (418)  |  Mathematics (587)

Nature laughs at the difficulties of integration.
— Pierre-Simon Laplace
Quoted in I. Gordon and S. Sorkin, The Armchair Science Reader (1959).
Science quotes on:  |  Integration (12)

The present state of the system of nature is evidently a consequence of what is in the preceding moment, and if we conceive of an intelligence which at a given instant knew all the forces acting in nature and the position of every object in the universe—if endowed with a brain sufficiently vast to make all necessary calculations—could describe with a single formula the motions of the largest astronomical bodies and those of the smallest atoms. To such an intelligence, nothing would be uncertain; the future, like the past, would be an open book.
— Pierre-Simon Laplace
As quoted in The Fascination of Physics by Jacqueline D. Spears and Dean Zollman (1986). Alternate translation: “The present state of the system of nature is evidently a consequence of what is in the preceding moment, and if we conceive of an intelligence which at a given instant comprehends all the relations of the entities of this universe, it could state the respective positions, motions, and general effects of all these entities at any time in the past or future.” In Harry Woolf, The Analytic spirit: essays in the history of science in honor of Henry Guerlac (1981), 91, the author states that “the language Laplace used was obviously borrowed from Concdorset, though now the words were reshuffled to express a new idea.”

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.
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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.
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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.
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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)

[It] may be laid down as a general rule that, if the result of a long series of precise observations approximates a simple relation so closely that the remaining difference is undetectable by observation and may be attributed to the errors to which they are liable, then this relation is probably that of nature.
— Pierre-Simon Laplace
'Mémoire sur les Inégalites Séculaires des Planètes et des Satellites' (I 785, published 1787). In Oeuvres completes de Laplace, 14 Vols. (1843-1912), Vol. 11, 57, trans. Charles Coulston Gillispie, Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827: A Life in Exact Science (1997), 130.
Science quotes on:  |  Approximation (16)  |  Attribute (22)  |  Difference (208)  |  Error (230)  |  Nature (1029)  |  Observation (418)  |  Precision (38)  |  Relation (96)  |  Result (250)  |  Rule (135)  |  Series (38)  |  Simplicity (126)  |  Undetectable (2)

[Science] dissipates errors born of ignorance about our true relations with nature, errors the more damaging in that the social order should rest only on those relations. TRUTH! JUSTICE! Those are the immutable laws. Let us banish the dangerous maxim that it is sometimes useful to depart from them and to deceive or enslave mankind to assure its happiness.
— Pierre-Simon Laplace
Exposition du Système du Monde (1796), 2, 312, trans. Charles Coulston Gillispie, Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827: A Life in Exact Science (1997), 175.
Science quotes on:  |  Banish (5)  |  Damage (18)  |  Dangerous (45)  |  Deceive (8)  |  Enslave (2)  |  Error (230)  |  Ignorance (190)  |  Immutable (9)  |  Justice (24)  |  Law (418)  |  Mankind (196)  |  Maxim (13)  |  Nature (1029)  |  Relationship (59)  |  Science (1699)  |  Social Order (7)  |  Truth (750)  |  Usefulness (70)


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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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