(source) 
PierreSimon Laplace
(23 Mar 1749  5 Mar 1827)

Science Quotes by PierreSimon Laplace (34 quotes)
>> Click for PierreSimon Laplace Quotes on  Analysis  Biography  Cause  Chance  Ignorance  Knowledge  Law  Mathematics  Nature  Observation  Phenomenon  Probability  Theory 
>> Click for PierreSimon Laplace Quotes on  Analysis  Biography  Cause  Chance  Ignorance  Knowledge  Law  Mathematics  Nature  Observation  Phenomenon  Probability  Theory 
Ce que nous connaissons est peu de chose; ce que nous ignorons est immense.
What we know is not much. What we do not know is immense.
Commonly said to be his last words. However, different true last words are stated by Augustus De Morgan.
What we know is not much. What we do not know is immense.
Commonly said to be his last words. However, different true last words are stated by Augustus De Morgan.
— PierreSimon Laplace
Lisez Euler, lisez Euler, c’est notre maître à tous.
(Read Euler, read Euler, he is our master in everything.)
(Read Euler, read Euler, he is our master in everything.)
— PierreSimon Laplace
L’homme ne poursuit que des chimères.
Man follows only phantoms.
Man follows only phantoms.
— PierreSimon Laplace
All the effects of Nature are only the mathematical consequences of a small number of immutable laws.
— PierreSimon Laplace
Analysis and natural philosophy owe their most important discoveries to this fruitful means, which is called induction. Newton was indebted to it for his theorem of the binomial and the principle of universal gravity.
— PierreSimon Laplace
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.
— PierreSimon Laplace
Here I shall present, without using Analysis [mathematics], the principles and general results of the Théorie, applying them to the most important questions of life, which are indeed, for the most part, only problems in probability. One may even say, strictly speaking, that almost all our knowledge is only probable; and in the small number of things that we are able to know with certainty, in the mathematical sciences themselves, the principal means of arriving at the truth—induction and analogy—are based on probabilities, so that the whole system of human knowledge is tied up with the theory set out in this essay.
— PierreSimon Laplace
However, the small probability of a similar encounter [of the earth with a comet], can become very great in adding up over a huge sequence of centuries. It is easy to picture to oneself the effects of this impact upon the Earth. The axis and the motion of rotation changed; the seas abandoning their old position to throw themselves toward the new equator; a large part of men and animals drowned in this universal deluge, or destroyed by the violent tremor imparted to the terrestrial globe.
— PierreSimon Laplace
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.
— PierreSimon Laplace
I see with much pleasure that you are working on a large work on the integral Calculus [ ... ] The reconciliation of the methods which you are planning to make, serves to clarify them mutually, and what they have in common contains very often their true metaphysics; this is why that metaphysics is almost the last thing that one discovers. The spirit arrives at the results as if by instinct; it is only on reflecting upon the route that it and others have followed that it succeeds in generalising the methods and in discovering its metaphysics.
— PierreSimon Laplace
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.
— PierreSimon Laplace
It is India that gave us the ingenious method of expressing all numbers by means of ten symbols, each symbol receiving a value of position as well as an absolute value; a profound and important idea which appears so simple to us now that we ignore its true merit. But its very simplicity and the great ease which it has lent to computations put our arithmetic in the first rank of useful inventions; and we shall appreciate the grandeur of the achievement the more when we remember that it escaped the genius of Archimedes and Apollonius, two of the greatest men produced by antiquity.
— PierreSimon Laplace
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.
— PierreSimon Laplace
It is natural for man to relate the units of distance by which he travels to the dimensions of the globe that he inhabits. Thus, in moving about the earth, he may know by the simple denomination of distance its proportion to the whole circuit of the earth. This has the further advantage of making nautical and celestial measurements correspond. The navigator often needs to determine, one from the other, the distance he has traversed from the celestial arc lying between the zeniths at his point of departure and at his destination. It is important, therefore, that one of these magnitudes should be the expression of the other, with no difference except in the units. But to that end, the fundamental linear unit must be an aliquot part of the terrestrial meridian. ... Thus, the choice of the metre was reduced to that of the unity of angles.
— PierreSimon Laplace
It is remarkable that a science which began with the consideration of games of chance should have become the most important object of human knowledge.
— PierreSimon Laplace
Leibnitz believed he saw the image of creation in his binary arithmetic in which he employed only two characters, unity and zero. Since God may be represented by unity, and nothing by zero, he imagined that the Supreme Being might have drawn all things from nothing, just as in the binary arithmetic all numbers are expressed by unity with zero. This idea was so pleasing to Leibnitz, that he communicated it to the Jesuit Grimaldi, President of the Mathematical Board of China, with the hope that this emblem of the creation might convert to Christianity the reigning emperor who was particularly attached to the sciences.
— PierreSimon Laplace
Napoleon: M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book [Système du Monde] on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.
Laplace: I have no need for this hypothesis. (Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèselà.)
Laplace: I have no need for this hypothesis. (Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèselà.)
— PierreSimon Laplace
Nature laughs at the difficulties of integration.
— PierreSimon Laplace
Such is the advantage of a well constructed language that its simplified notation often becomes the source of profound theories.
— PierreSimon Laplace
The mind has its illusions as the sense of sight; and in the same manner that the sense of feeling corrects the latter, reflection and calculation correct the former.
— PierreSimon Laplace
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.
— PierreSimon Laplace
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.
— PierreSimon Laplace
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.
— PierreSimon Laplace
The theory of probabilities is at bottom nothing but common sense reduced to calculus; it enables us to appreciate with exactness that which accurate minds feel with a sort of instinct for which of times they are unable to account.
— PierreSimon Laplace
The theory of probabilities is at bottom only common sense reduced to calculation; it makes us appreciate with exactitude what reasonable minds feel by a sort of instinct, often without being able to account for it. … It is remarkable that [this] science, which originated in the consideration of games of chance, should have become the most important object of human knowledge.
— PierreSimon Laplace
The theory of probabilities is basically only common sense reduced to a calculus. It makes one estimate accurately what rightminded people feel by a sort of instinct, often without being able to give a reason for it.
— PierreSimon Laplace
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.
— PierreSimon Laplace
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.
— PierreSimon Laplace
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.
— PierreSimon Laplace
What we know here is very little, but what we are ignorant of is immense
— PierreSimon Laplace
Without any doubt, the regularity which astronomy shows us in the movements of the comets takes place in all phenomena. The trajectory of a simple molecule of air or vapour is regulated in a manner as certain as that of the planetary orbits; the only difference between them is that which is contributed by our ignorance. Probability is relative in part to this ignorance, and in part to our knowledge.
— PierreSimon Laplace
[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.
— PierreSimon Laplace
[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.
— PierreSimon Laplace
…by shortening the labours doubled the life of the astronomer.
On the benefit of Napier’s logarithms.
On the benefit of Napier’s logarithms.
— PierreSimon Laplace
Quotes by others about PierreSimon Laplace (27)
To Laplace, on receiving a copy of the Mécanique Céleste:
The first six months, which I can spare will be employed in reading it.
The first six months, which I can spare will be employed in reading it.
Whenever I meet in Laplace with the words “Thus it plainly appears”, I am sure that hours and perhaps days, of hard study will alone enable me to discover how it plainly appears.
The scientist who recognizes God knows only the God of Newton. To him the God imagined by Laplace and Comte is wholly inadequate. He feels that God is in nature, that the orderly ways in which nature works are themselves the manifestations of God's will and purpose. Its laws are his orderly way of working.
In general I would be cautious against … plays of fancy and would not make way for their reception into scientific astronomy, which must have quite a different character. Laplace’s cosmogenic hypotheses belong in that class. Indeed, I do not deny that I sometimes amuse myself in a similar manner, only I would never publish the stuff. My thoughts about the inhabitants of celestial bodies, for example, belong in that category. For my part, I am (contrary to the usual opinion) convinced … that the larger the cosmic body, the smaller are the inhabitants and other products. For example, on the sun trees, which in the same ratio would be larger than ours, as the sun exceeds the earth in magnitude, would not be able to exist, for on account of the much greater weight on the surface of the sun, all branches would break themselves off, in so far as the materials are not of a sort entirely heterogeneous with those on earth.
The influence of electricity in producing decompositions, although of inestimable value as an instrument of discovery in chemical inquiries, can hardly be said to have been applied to the practical purposes of life, until the same powerful genius [Davy] which detected the principle, applied it, by a singular felicity of reasoning, to arrest the corrosion of the coppersheathing of vessels. … this was regarded as by Laplace as the greatest of Sir Humphry's discoveries.
The genius of Laplace was a perfect sledge hammer in bursting purely mathematical obstacles; but, like that useful instrument, it gave neither finish nor beauty to the results. In truth, in truism if the reader please, Laplace was neither Lagrange nor Euler, as every student is made to feel. The second is power and symmetry, the third power and simplicity; the first is power without either symmetry or simplicity. But, nevertheless, Laplace never attempted investigation of a subject without leaving upon it the marks of difficulties conquered: sometimes clumsily, sometimes indirectly, always without minuteness of design or arrangement of detail; but still, his end is obtained and the difficulty is conquered.
Laplace would have found it child'splay to fix a ratio of progression in mathematical science between Descartes, Leibnitz, Newton and himself
As far as I see, such a theory [of the primeval atom] remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question. It leaves the materialist free to deny any transcendental Being. He may keep, for the bottom of spacetime, the same attitude of mind he has been able to adopt for events occurring in nonsingular places in spacetime. For the believer, it removes any attempt to familiarity with God, as were Laplace's chiquenaude or Jeans' finger. It is consonant with the wording of Isaiah speaking of the 'Hidden God' hidden even in the beginning of the universe ... Science has not to surrender in face of the Universe and when Pascal tries to infer the existence of God from the supposed infinitude of Nature, we may think that he is looking in the wrong direction.
How did Biot arrive at the partial differential equation? [the heat conduction equation] … Perhaps Laplace gave Biot the equation and left him to sink or swim for a few years in trying to derive it. That would have been merely an instance of the way great mathematicians since the very beginnings of mathematical research have effortlessly maintained their superiority over ordinary mortals.
Biot, who assisted Laplace in revising it [The Mécanique Céleste] for the press, says that Laplace himself was frequently unable to recover the details in the chain of reasoning, and if satisfied that the conclusions were correct, he was content to insert the constantly recurring formula, “Il est àisé a voir” [it is easy to see].
The great masters of modern analysis are Lagrange, Laplace, and Gauss, who were contemporaries. It is interesting to note the marked contrast in their styles. Lagrange is perfect both in form and matter, he is careful to explain his procedure, and though his arguments are general they are easy to follow. Laplace on the other hand explains nothing, is indifferent to style, and, if satisfied that his results are correct, is content to leave them either with no proof or with a faulty one. Gauss is as exact and elegant as Lagrange, but even more difficult to follow than Laplace, for he removes every trace of the analysis by which he reached his results, and studies to give a proof which while rigorous shall be as concise and synthetical as possible.
No one can read the history of astronomy without perceiving that Copernicus, Newton, Laplace, are not new men, or a new kind of men, but that Thales, Anaximenes, Hipparchus, Empodocles, Aristorchus, Pythagorus, Oenipodes, had anticipated them.
The first effect of the mind growing cultivated is that processes once multiple get to be performed in a single act. Lazarus has called this the progressive “condensation” of thought. ... Steps really sink from sight. An advanced thinker sees the relations of his topics is such masses and so instantaneously that when he comes to explain to younger minds it is often hard ... Bowditch, who translated and annotated Laplace's Méchanique Céleste, said that whenever his author prefaced a proposition by the words “it is evident,” he knew that many hours of hard study lay before him.
Every complete set of chromosomes contains the full code; so there are, as a rule, two copies of the latter in the fertilized egg cell, which forms the earliest stage of the future individual. In calling the structure of the chromosome fibres a codescript we mean that the allpenetrating mind, once conceived by Laplace, to which every causal connection lay immediately open, could tell from their structure whether the egg would develop, under suitable conditions, into a black cock or into a speckled hen, into a fly or a maize plant, a rhododendron, a beetle, a mouse or a woman. To which we may add, that the appearances of the egg cells are very often remarkably similar; and even when they are not, as in the case of the comparatively gigantic eggs of birds and reptiles, the difference is not so much in the relevant structures as in the nutritive material which in these cases is added for obvious reasons.
But the term codescript is, of course, too narrow. The chromosome structures are at the same time instrumental in bringing about the development they foreshadow. They are lawcode and executive power?or, to use another simile, they are architect's plan and builder’s craftin one.
But the term codescript is, of course, too narrow. The chromosome structures are at the same time instrumental in bringing about the development they foreshadow. They are lawcode and executive power?or, to use another simile, they are architect's plan and builder’s craftin one.
There is no supernatural, there is only nature. Nature alone exists and contains all. All is. There is the part of nature that we perceive, and the part of nature that we do not perceive. … If you abandon these facts, beware; charlatans will light upon them, also the imbecile. There is no mean: science, or ignorance. If science does not want these facts, ignorance will take them up. You have refused to enlarge human intelligence, you augment human stupidity. When Laplace withdraws Cagliostro appears.
Laplace considers astronomy a science of observation, because we can only observe the movements of the planets; we cannot reach them, indeed, to alter their course and to experiment with them. “On earth,” said Laplace, “we make phenomena vary by experiments; in the sky, we carefully define all the phenomena presented to us by celestial motion.” Certain physicians call medicine a science of observations, because they wrongly think that experimentation is inapplicable to it.
There can be but one opinion as to the beauty and utility of this analysis of Laplace; but the manner in which it has been hitherto presented has seemed repulsive to the ablest mathematicians, and difficult to ordinary mathematical students.[Coauthor with Peter Guthrie Tait.]
Simple as the law of gravity now appears, and beautifully in accordance with all the observations of past and of present times, consider what it has cost of intellectual study. Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Euler, Lagrange, Laplace, all the great names which have exalted the character of man, by carrying out trains of reasoning unparalleled in every other science; these, and a host of others, each of whom might have been the Newton of another field, have all labored to work out, the consequences which resulted from that single law which he discovered. All that the human mind has produced—the brightest in genius, the most persevering in application, has been lavished on the details of the law of gravity.
A mathematician of the first rank, Laplace quickly revealed himself as only a mediocre administrator; from his first work we saw that we had been deceived. Laplace saw no question from its true point of view; he sought subtleties everywhere; had only doubtful ideas, and finally carried the spirit of the infinitely small into administration.
I never come across one of Laplace’s “Thus it plainly appears” without feeling sure that I have hours of hard work before me to fill up the chasm and find out and show how it plainly appears.
The name of Sir Isaac Newton has by general consent been placed at the head of those great men who have been the ornaments of their species. … The philosopher [Laplace], indeed, to whom posterity will probably assign a place next to Newton, has characterized the Principia as preeminent above all the productions of human intellect.
Newton and Laplace need myriads of ages and thickstrewn celestial areas. One may say a gravitating solar system is already prophesied in the nature of Newton’s mind.
The persons who have been employed on these problems of applying the properties of matter and the laws of motion to the explanation of the phenomena of the world, and who have brought to them the high and admirable qualities which such an office requires, have justly excited in a very eminent degree the admiration which mankind feels for great intellectual powers. Their names occupy a distinguished place in literary history; and probably there are no scientific reputations of the last century higher, and none more merited, than those earned by great mathematicians who have laboured with such wonderful success in unfolding the mechanism of the heavens; such for instance as D ’Alembert, Clairaut, Euler, Lagrange, Laplace.
We pass with admiration along the great series of mathematicians, by whom the science of theoretical mechanics has been cultivated, from the time of Newton to our own. There is no group of men of science whose fame is higher or brighter. The great discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, had fixed all eyes on those portions of human knowledge on which their successors employed their labors. The certainty belonging to this line of speculation seemed to elevate mathematicians above the students of other subjects; and the beauty of mathematical relations and the subtlety of intellect which may be shown in dealing with them, were fitted to win unbounded applause. The successors of Newton and the Bernoullis, as Euler, Clairaut, D’Alembert, Lagrange, Laplace, not to introduce living names, have been some of the most remarkable men of talent which the world has seen.
This [the fact that the pursuit of mathematics brings into harmonious action all the faculties of the human mind] accounts for the extraordinary longevity of all the greatest masters of the Analytic art, the Dii Majores of the mathematical Pantheon. Leibnitz lived to the age of 70; Euler to 76; Lagrange to 77; Laplace to 78; Gauss to 78; Plato, the supposed inventor of the conic sections, who made mathematics his study and delight, who called them the handles or aids to philosophy, the medicine of the soul, and is said never to have let a day go by without inventing some new theorems, lived to 82; Newton, the crown and glory of his race, to 85; Archimedes, the nearest akin, probably, to Newton in genius, was 75, and might have lived on to be 100, for aught we can guess to the contrary, when he was slain by the impatient and ill mannered sergeant, sent to bring him before the Roman general, in the full vigour of his faculties, and in the very act of working out a problem; Pythagoras, in whose school, I believe, the word mathematician (used, however, in a somewhat wider than its present sense) originated, the second founder of geometry, the inventor of the matchless theorem which goes by his name, the precognizer of the undoubtedly miscalled Copernican theory, the discoverer of the regular solids and the musical canon who stands at the very apex of this pyramid of fame, (if we may credit the tradition) after spending 22 years studying in Egypt, and 12 in Babylon, opened school when 56 or 57 years old in Magna Græcia, married a young wife when past 60, and died, carrying on his work with energy unspent to the last, at the age of 99. The mathematician lives long and lives young; the wings of his soul do not early drop off, nor do its pores become clogged with the earthy particles blown from the dusty highways of vulgar life.
The love of mathematics is daily on the increase, not only with us but in the army. The result of this was unmistakably apparent in our last campaigns. Bonaparte himself has a mathematical head, and though all who study this science may not become geometricians like Laplace or Lagrange, or heroes like Bonaparte, there is yet left an influence upon the mind which enables them to accomplish more than they could possibly have achieved without this training.
From the infinitely great down to the infinitely small, all things are subject to [the laws of nature]. The sun and the planets follow the laws discovered by Newton and Laplace, just as the atoms in their combinations follow the laws of chemistry, as living creatures follow the laws of biology. It is only the imperfections of the human mind which multiply the divisions of the sciences, separating astronomy from physics or chemistry, the natural sciences from the social sciences. In essence, science is one. It is none other than the truth.
See also:
 23 Mar  short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Laplace's birth.
 PierreSimon Laplace, 17491827, by Charles Coulston Gillispie.  book suggestion.