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Argument Quotes (59 quotes)

A central lesson of science is that to understand complex issues (or even simple ones), we must try to free our minds of dogma and to guarantee the freedom to publish, to contradict, and to experiment. Arguments from authority are unacceptable.
Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millenium (1998), 190.
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A mathematical argument is, after all, only organized common sense, and it is well that men of science should not always expound their work to the few behind a veil of technical language, but should from time to time explain to a larger public the reasoning which lies behind their mathematical notation.
In The Tides and Kindred Phenomena in the Solar System: The Substance of Lectures Delivered in 1897 at the Lowell Institute, Boston, Massachusetts (1898), Preface, v. Preface
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A Miracle is a Violation of the Laws of Nature; and as a firm and unalterable Experience has established these Laws, the Proof against a Miracle, from the very Nature of the Fact, is as entire as any Argument from Experience can possibly be imagined. Why is it more than probable, that all Men must die; that Lead cannot, of itself, remain suspended in the Air; that Fire consumes Wood, and is extinguished by Water; unless it be, that these Events are found agreeable to the Laws of Nature, and there is required a Violation of these Laws, or in other Words, a Miracle to prevent them? Nothing is esteem'd a Miracle, if it ever happen in the common Course of Nature... There must, therefore, be a uniform Experience against every miraculous Event, otherwise the Event would not merit that Appellation. And as a uniform Experience amounts to a Proof, there is here a direct and full Proof, from the Nature of the Fact, against the Existence of any Miracle; nor can such a Proof be destroy'd, or the Miracle render'd credible, but by an opposite Proof, which is superior.
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748), 180-181.
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A sufferer from angina, Hunter found that his attacks were often brought on by anger. He declared, 'My life is at the mercy of the scoundrel who chooses to put me in a passion.' This proved prophetic: at a meeting of the board of St. George's Hospital, London, of which he was a member, he became involved in a heated argument with other board members, walked out of the meeting and dropped dead in the next room.
As described in Clifton Fadiman (ed.), André Bernard (ed.), Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes (2000), 282, citing New Scientist (9 Nov 1981).
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After a tremendous task has been begun in our time, first by Copernicus and then by many very learned mathematicians, and when the assertion that the earth moves can no longer be considered something new, would it not be much better to pull the wagon to its goal by our joint efforts, now that we have got it underway, and gradually, with powerful voices, to shout down the common herd, which really does not weigh arguments very carefully?
Letter to Galileo (13 Oct 1597). In James Bruce Ross (ed.) and Mary Martin (ed., trans.), 'Comrades in the Pursuit of Truth', The Portable Renaissance Reader (1953, 1981), 599. As quoted and cited in Merry E. Wiesner, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789 (2013), 377.
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Again the message to experimentalists is: Be sensible but don’t be impressed too much by negative arguments. If at all possible, try it and see what turns up. Theorists almost always dislike this sort of approach.
What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery (1988), 113.
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As to how far in advance of the first flight the man should know he’s going. I’m not in agreement with the argument that says word should be delayed until the last possible moment to save the pilot from developing a bad case of the jitters. If we don’t have the confidence to keep from getting clutched at that time, we have no business going at all. If I’m the guy going, I’ll be glad to get the dope as soon as possible. As for keeping this a big secret from us and having us all suited up and then saying to one man “you go” and stuffing him in and putting the lid on that thing and away he goes, well, we’re all big boys now.
As he wrote in an article for Life (14 Sep 1959), 38. In fact, he was the first to fly in Earth orbit on 20 Feb 1962, though Alan Shepard was picked for the earlier first suborbital flight.
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Because intelligence is our own most distinctive feature, we may incline to ascribe superior intelligence to the basic primate plan, or to the basic plan of the mammals in general, but this point requires some careful consideration. There is no question at all that most mammals of today are more intelligent than most reptiles of today. I am not going to try to define intelligence or to argue with those who deny thought or consciousness to any animal except man. It seems both common and scientific sense to admit that ability to learn, modification of action according to the situation, and other observable elements of behavior in animals reflect their degrees of intelligence and permit us, if only roughly, to compare these degrees. In spite of all difficulties and all the qualifications with which the expert (quite properly) hedges his conclusions, it also seems sensible to conclude that by and large an animal is likely to be more intelligent if it has a larger brain at a given body size and especially if its brain shows greater development of those areas and structures best developed in our own brains. After all, we know we are intelligent, even though we wish we were more so.
In The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life and of its Significance for Man (1949), 78.
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But having considered everything which has been said, one could by this believe that the earth and not the heavens is so moved, and there is no evidence to the contrary. Nevertheless, this seems prima facie as much, or more, against natural reason as are all or several articles of our faith. Thus, that which I have said by way of diversion (esbatement) in this manner can be valuable to refute and check those who would impugn our faith by argument.
On the Book of the Heavens and the World of Aristotle [1377], bk. II, ch. 25, sect. 10, trans. A. D. Menut and A. J. Denomy, quoted in Marshall Clagett, The Science of Mechanics in the Middle Ages (1959), 606.
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Casting off the dark fog of verbal philosophy and vulgar medicine, which inculcate names alone ... I tried a series of experiments to explain more clearly many phenomena, particularly those of physiology. In order that I might subject as far as possible the reasonings of the Galenists and Peripatetics to sensory criteria, I began, after trying experiments, to write dialogues in which a Galenist adduced the better-known and stronger reasons and arguments; these a mechanist surgeon refuted by citing to the contrary the experiments I had tried, and a third, neutral interlocutor weighed the reasons advanced by both and provided an opportunity for further progress.
'Malpighi at Pisa 1656-1659', in H. B. Adelmann (ed.), Marcello Malpighi and the Evolution of Embryology (1966), Vol. 1, 155-6.
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Debate is an art form. It is about the winning of arguments. It is not about the discovery of truth. There are certain rules and procedures to debate that really have nothing to do with establishing fact–which creationists have mastered. Some of those rules are: never say anything positive about your own position because it can be attacked, but chip away at what appear to be the weaknesses in your opponent’s position. They are good at that. I don’t think I could beat the creationists at debate. I can tie them. But in courtrooms they are terrible, because in courtrooms you cannot give speeches. In a courtroom you have to answer direct questions about the positive status of your belief. We destroyed them in Arkansas. On the second day of the two-week trial we had our victory party!
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Error is often nourished by good sense. … The meaning is, that the powers of the understanding are frequently employed to defend favourite errors; and that a man of sense frequently fortifies himself in his prejudices, or in false opinions which he received without examination, by such arguments as would not have occurred to a fool.
In Maxims, Characters, and Reflections, Critical, Satyrical and Moral (2nd ed., 1757), 9. The meaning is given as a footnote.
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Eugene Dubois is no hero in my book, if only because I share the spirit of his unorthodoxies, but disagree so strongly with his version, and regard his supporting arguments as so weakly construed and so willfully blind to opposing evidence (the dogmatist within is always worse than the enemy without).
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Even fairly good students, when they have obtained the solution of the problem and written down neatly the argument, shut their books and look for something else. Doing so, they miss an important and instructive phase of the work. ... A good teacher should understand and impress on his students the view that no problem whatever is completely exhausted.
In How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (2004), 14.
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He thought he saw an Argument
That proved he was the Pope:
He looked again and found it was
A Bar of Mottled Soap.
“A fact so dread.” he faintly said,
“Extinguishes all hope!”
In Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893), 319.
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I believe that certain erroneous developments in particle theory ... are caused by a misconception by some physicists that it is possible to avoid philosophical arguments altogether. Starting with poor philosophy, they pose the wrong questions. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that good physics has at times been spoiled by poor philosophy.
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I have found you an argument: but I am not obliged to find you an understanding.
In James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791), Vol. 2, 514.
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I have written many direct and indirect arguments for the Copernican view, but until now I have not dared to publish them, alarmed by the fate of Copernicus himself, our master. He has won for himself undying fame in the eyes of a few, but he has been mocked and hooted at by an infinite multitude (for so large is the number of fools). I would dare to come forward publicly with my ideas if there were more people of your [Johannes Kepler’s] way of thinking. As this is not the case, I shall refrain.
Letter to Kepler (4 Aug 1597). In James Bruce Ross (ed.) and Mary Martin (ed., trans.), 'Comrades in the Pursuit of Truth', The Portable Renaissance Reader (1953, 1981), 597-599. As quoted and cited in Merry E. Wiesner, Early Modern Europe, 1450-1789 (2013), 377.
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I would not be confident in everything I say about the argument: but one thing I would fight for to the end, both in word and in deed if I were able—that if we believe we should try to find out what is not known, we should be better and braver and less idle than if we believed that what we do not know is impossible to find out and that we need not even try.
Socrates
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I'm sorry to say that the subject I most disliked was mathematics. I have thought about it. I think the reason was that mathematics leaves no room for argument.
Malcolm X
The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965, 1999), 34.
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If texts are unified by a central logic of argument, then their pictorial illustrations are integral to the ensemble, not pretty little trifles included only for aesthetic or commercial value. Primates are visual animals, and (particularly in science) illustration has a language and set of conventions all its own.
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In the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense; and have no other preliminaries to settle with the reader, than that he will divest himself of prejudice and repossession, and suffer his reason and feelings to determine for themselves; and that he will put on, or rather that he will not put off, the true character of man, and generously enlarge his view beyond the present day.
In Common Sense: Addressed to the Inhabitants of America (1792), 15.
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It is impossible to answer your question briefly; and I am not sure that I could do so, even if I wrote at some length. But I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide.
[Replying to query about his religious views]
Letter to a Dutch student (2 Apr 1873), in Charles Darwin and Sir Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1896), 276.
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It is not of the essence of mathematics to be conversant with the ideas of number and quantity. Whether as a general habit of mind it would be desirable to apply symbolic processes to moral argument, is another question.
An Investigation of the Laws of Thought (1854), 12.
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It is so hard for an evolutionary biologist to write about extinction caused by human stupidity ... Let me then float an unconventional plea, the inverse of the usual argument ... The extinction of Partula is unfair to Partula. That is the conventional argument, and I do not challenge its primacy. But we need a humanistic ecology as well, both for the practical reason that people will always touch people more than snails do or can, and for the moral reason that humans are legitimately the measure of all ethical questions–for these are our issues, not nature’s.
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It is well to remember that most arguments in favor of not trying an experiment are too flimsily based.
Quoted in a lecture published in Experientia, Supplementum II (1955), 226.
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It may be observed of mathematicians that they only meddle with such things as are certain, passing by those that are doubtful and unknown. They profess not to know all things, neither do they affect to speak of all things. What they know to be true, and can make good by invincible arguments, that they publish and insert among their theorems. Of other things they are silent and pass no judgment at all, chusing [choosing] rather to acknowledge their ignorance, than affirm anything rashly. They affirm nothing among their arguments or assertions which is not most manifestly known and examined with utmost rigour, rejecting all probable conjectures and little witticisms. They submit nothing to authority, indulge no affection, detest subterfuges of words, and declare their sentiments, as in a Court of Judicature [Justice], without passion, without apology; knowing that their reasons, as Seneca testifies of them, are not brought to persuade, but to compel.
Mathematical Lectures (1734), 64.
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It might be thought … that evolutionary arguments would play a large part in guiding biological research, but this is far from the case. It is difficult enough to study what is happening now. To figure out exactly what happened in evolution is even more difficult. Thus evolutionary achievements can be used as hints to suggest possible lines of research, but it is highly dangerous to trust them too much. It is all too easy to make mistaken inferences unless the process involved is already very well understood.
In What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery (1988), 138-139.
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Men argue, nature acts.
Voltaire and H.I. Woolf (trans.), Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary? (1924), 281.
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Not long ago the head of what should be a strictly scientific department in one of the major universities commented on the odd (and ominous) phenomenon that persons who can claim to be scientists on the basis of the technical training that won them the degree of Ph.D. are now found certifying the authenticity of the painted rag that is called the “Turin Shroud” or adducing “scientific” arguments to support hoaxes about the “paranormal” or an antiquated religiosity. “You can hire a scientist [sic],” he said, “to prove anything.” He did not adduce himself as proof of his generalization, but he did boast of his cleverness in confining his own research to areas in which the results would not perturb the Establishment or any vociferous gang of shyster-led fanatics. If such is indeed the status of science and scholarship in our darkling age, Send not to ask for whom the bell tolls.
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Now when naturalists observe a close agreement in numerous small details of habits, tastes, and dispositions between two or more domestic races, or between nearly-allied natural forms, they use this fact as an argument that they are descended from a common progenitor who was thus endowed; and consequently that all should be classed under the same species. The same argument may be applied with much force to the races of man.
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Oh, my dear Kepler, how I wish that we could have one hearty laugh together. Here, at Padua, is the principal professor of philosophy, whom I have repeatedly and urgently requested to look at the moon and planets through my glass, [telescope] which he pertinaciously refuses to do. Why are you not here? what shouts of laughter we should have at this glorious folly! and to hear the professor of philosophy at Pisa laboring before the grand duke with logical arguments, as if with magical incantations, to charm the new planets out of the sky.
From Letter to Johannes Kepler. As translated in John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune, Life of Galileo Galilei: With Illustrations of the Advancement of Experimental Philosophy (1832), 92-93.
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One of the great commandments of science is, 'Mistrust arguments from authority'. (Scientists, being primates, and thus given to dominance hierarchies, of course do not always follow this commandment.)
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1996), 31.
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Ordinarily logic is divided into the examination of ideas, judgments, arguments, and methods. The two latter are generally reduced to judgments, that is, arguments are reduced to apodictic judgments that such and such conclusions follow from such and such premises, and method is reduced to judgments that prescribe the procedure that should be followed in the search for truth.
Ampére expresses how arguments have a logical structure which he expected should be applied to relate scientific theories to experimental evidence. In James R. Hofmann, André-Marie Ampère (1996), 158. Cites Académie des Sciences Ampère Archives, École Normale lecture 15 notes, box 261.
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Professor Whitehead has recently restored a seventeenth century phrase—"climate of opinion." The phrase is much needed. Whether arguments command assent or not depends less upon the logic that conveys them than upon the climate of opinion in which they are sustained.
In The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (1932, 2003), 5
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Science, by itself, cannot supply us with an ethic. It can show us how to achieve a given end, and it may show us that some ends cannot be achieved. But among ends that can be achieved our choice must be decided by other than purely scientific considerations. If a man were to say, “I hate the human race, and I think it would be a good thing if it were exterminated,” we could say, “Well, my dear sir, let us begin the process with you.” But this is hardly argument, and no amount of science could prove such a man mistaken.
'The Science to Save us from Science', New York Times Magazine (19 Mar 1950). Collected in M. Gardner (ed.), Great Essays in Science (1950), 396-397.
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Tactics used by many practitioners of pseudoscience: make a large number of vaguely scientific arguments in the hope of making the desired conclusion seem inevitable. It is essential to recognize that a disconnected assemblage of weak arguments does not create a single, strong scientific argument.
Co-author with Matt Ford, Chris Lee and Jonathan Gitlin, in 'Diluting the Scientific Method: Ars Looks at Homeopathy' (11 Sep 2007) on arstechnica.com web site.
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The argument advanced by the supporters of the theory of hereditary transmission does not furnish a satisfactory explanation of the cause of the inequalities and diversities of the universe.
Vedanta Philosophy: Five Lectures on Reincarnation (1902), 41.
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The argument of the ‘long view’ may be correct in some meaninglessly abstract sense, but it represents a fundamental mistake in categories and time scales. Our only legitimate long view extends to our children and our children’s children’s children–hundreds or a few thousands of years down the road. If we let the slaughter continue, they will share a bleak world with rats, dogs, cockroaches, pigeons, and mosquitoes. A potential recovery millions of years later has no meaning at our appropriate scale.
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The arguments for the two substances [mind and body] have, we believe, entirely lost their validity; they are no longer compatible with ascertained science and clear thinking. The one substance with two sets of properties, two sides, the physical and the mental—a double-faced unity—would appear to comply with all the exigencies of the case. … The mind is destined to be a double study—to conjoin the mental philosopher with the physical philosopher.
From concluding paragraph in Mind and Body: The Theories of their Relation (1872), 195.
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The classification of facts and the formation of absolute judgments upon the basis of this classification—judgments independent of the idiosyncrasies of the individual mind—essentially sum up the aim and method of modern science. The scientific man has above all things to strive at self-elimination in his judgments, to provide an argument which is as true for each individual mind as for his own.
From The Grammar of Science (1892), 7-8.
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The cure for a fallacious argument is a better argument, not the suppression of ideas.
The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1997), 429.
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The method I take to do this is not yet very usual; for instead of using only comparative and superlative Words, and intellectual Arguments, I have taken the course (as a Specimen of the Political Arithmetic I have long aimed at) to express myself in Terms of Number, Weight, or Measure; to use only Arguments of Sense, and to consider only such Causes, as have visible Foundations in Nature.
From Essays in Political Arithmetic (1679, 1755), 98.
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The moral faculties are generally and justly esteemed as of higher value than the intellectual powers. But we should bear in mind that the activity of the mind in vividly recalling past impressions is one of the fundamental though secondary bases of conscience. This affords the strongest argument for educating and stimulating in all possible ways the intellectual faculties of every human being.
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The second [argument about motion] is the so-called Achilles, and it amounts to this, that in a race the quickest runner can never overtake the slowest, since the pursuer must first reach the point whence the pursued started, so that the slower must always hold a lead.
Statement of the Achilles and the Tortoise paradox in the relation of the discrete to the continuous.; perhaps the earliest example of the reductio ad absurdum method of proof.
Zeno
Aristotle, Physics, 239b, 14-6. In Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle (1984), Vol. 1, 404.
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The strongest arguments prove nothing so long as the conclusions are not verified by experience. Experimental science is the queen of sciences and the goal of all speculation.
Opus Tertium. Translation as stated in Popular Science (Aug 1901), 337.
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Their theories should be carefully examined and their arguments fairly weighed, but the scientist cannot compel acceptance of any argument he advances, except as, judged upon its merits, it is convincing.
In chapter, 'The Origin of Man', In His Image (1922), 93.
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There prevails among men of letters, an opinion, that all appearance of science is particularly hateful to Women; and that therefore whoever desires to be well received in female assemblies, 'must qualify himself by a total rejection of all that is serious, rational, or important; must consider argument or criticism as perpetually interdicted; and devote all his attention to trifles, and all his eloquence to compliment.
The Rambler, Number 173, 12 Nov 1751. In W. J. Bate and Albrecht B. Strauss (eds.), The Rambler (1969), Vol. 3, 152-3.
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These duplicates in those parts of the body, without which a man might have very well subsisted, though not so well as with them, are a plain demonstration of an all-wise Contriver, as those more numerous copyings which are found among the vessels of the same body are evident demonstrations that they could not be the work of chance. This argument receives additional strength if we apply it to every animal and insect within our knowledge, as well as to those numberless living creatures that are objects too minute for a human eye: and if we consider how the several species in this whole world of life resemble one another in very many particulars, so far as is convenient for their respective states of existence, it is much more probable that a hundred millions of dice should be casually thrown a hundred millions of times in the same number than that the body of any single animal should be produced by the fortuitous concourse of matter.
In The Spectator (22 Nov 1712), No. 543, as collected in Vol. 4 (1721, 10th ed.), 48.
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Wallace’s error on human intellect arose from the in adequacy of his rigid selectionism, not from a failure to apply it. And his argument repays our study today, since its flaw persists as the weak link in many of the most ‘modern’ evolutionary speculations of our current literature. For Wallace’s rigid selectionism is much closer than Darwin’s pluralism to the attitude embodied in our favored theory today, which, ironically in this context, goes by the name of ‘Neo-Darwinism.’
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We live in a capitalist economy, and I have no particular objection to honorable self-interest. We cannot hope to make the needed, drastic improvement in primary and secondary education without a dramatic restructuring of salaries. In my opinion, you cannot pay a good teacher enough money to recompense the value of talent applied to the education of young children. I teach an hour or two a day to tolerably well-behaved near-adults–and I come home exhausted. By what possible argument are my services worth more in salary than those of a secondary-school teacher with six classes a day, little prestige, less support, massive problems of discipline, and a fundamental role in shaping minds. (In comparison, I only tinker with intellects already largely formed.)
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We thus begin to see that the institutionalized practice of citations and references in the sphere of learning is not a trivial matter. While many a general reader–that is, the lay reader located outside the domain of science and scholarship–may regard the lowly footnote or the remote endnote or the bibliographic parenthesis as a dispensable nuisance, it can be argued that these are in truth central to the incentive system and an underlying sense of distributive justice that do much to energize the advancement of knowledge.
In ''he Matthew Effect in Science, II: Cumulative Advantage and the Symbolism of Intellectual Property', Isis (1988), 79, 621.
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We won't argue; you're wrong. [A common comment to his employees illustrating his resistance to changing his mind about his grand schemes.]
As expressed in Adam Macqueen, The King of Sunlight: How William Lever Cleaned Up the World (2005), and in some of its book reviews.
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Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away while scientists debate rival theories for explaining them. Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air pending the outcome. And human beings evolved from apelike ancestors whether they did so by Darwin’s proposed mechanism or by some other, yet to be discovered … Evolutionists make no claim for perpetual truth, though creationists often do (and then attack us for a style of argument that they themselves favor).
'Evolution as Fact and Theory', in Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History (1983), 254-255.
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Whatever things are not derived from objects themselves, whether by the external senses or by the sensation of internal thoughts, are to be taken as hypotheses…. Those things which follow from the phenomena neither by demonstration nor by the argument of induction, I hold as hypotheses.
As quoted in Ernan McMullin, 'The Principia: Significance For Empiricism', collected in Margaret J. Osler and ‎Paul Lawrence Farber (eds.), Religion, Science, and Worldview: Essays in Honor of Richard S. Westfall (2002), 38.
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Wheeler’s First Moral Principle: Never make a calculation until you know the answer. Make an estimate before every calculation, try a simple physical argument (symmetry! invariance! conservation!) before every derivation, guess the answer to every paradox and puzzle. Courage: No one else needs to know what the guess is. Therefore make it quickly, by instinct. A right guess reinforces this instinct. A wrong guess brings the refreshment of surprise. In either case life as a spacetime expert, however long, is more fun!
In E.F. Taylor and J.A. Wheeler, Spacetime Physics (1992), 20.
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When [Erwin Schrödinger] went to the Solvay conferences in Brussels, he would walk from the station to the hotel where the delegates stayed, carrying all his luggage in a rucksack and looking so like a tramp that it needed a great deal of argument at the reception desk before he could claim a room.
Quoted in Robert L. Weber, Pioneers of Science: Nobel Prize Winners in Physics (1980), 100.
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Zoocentrism is the primary fallacy of human sociobiology, for this view of human behavior rests on the argument that if the actions of ‘lower’ animals with simple nervous systems arise as genetic products of natural selection, then human behavior should have a similar basis.
…...
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[Science] is not perfect. It can be misused. It is only a tool. But it is by far the best tool we have, self-correcting, ongoing, applicable to everything. It has two rules. First: there are no sacred truths; all assumptions must be critically examined; arguments from authority are worthless. Second: whatever is inconsistent with the facts must be discarded or revised. ... The obvious is sometimes false; the unexpected is sometimes true.
Cosmos (1985), 277.
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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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