Attribute Quotes (34 quotes)
A week or so after I learned that I was to receive the Miller Award, our president, Marty Morton, phoned and asked me if I would utter a few words of scientific wisdom as a part of the ceremony. Unfortunately for me, and perhaps for you, I agreed to do so. In retrospect I fear that my response was a serious error, because I do not feel wise. I do not know whether to attribute my response to foolhardiness, to conceit, to an inordinate susceptibility to flattery, to stupidity, or to some combination of these unfortunate attributes all of which I have been told are recognizable in my personality. Personally, I tend to favor stupidity, because that is a condition over which I have little control.
As an Art, Mathematics has its own standard of beauty and elegance which can vie with the more decorative arts. In this it is diametrically opposed to a Baroque art which relies on a wealth of ornamental additions. Bereft of superfluous addenda, Mathematics may appear, on first acquaintance, austere and severe. But longer contemplation reveals the classic attributes of simplicity relative to its significance and depth of meaning.
At their best, at their most creative, science and engineering are attributes of liberty—noble expressions of man’s God-given right to investigate and explore the universe without fear of social or political or religious reprisals.
But as my conclusions have lately been much misrepresented, and it has been stated that I attribute the modification of species exclusively to natural selection, I may be permitted to remark that in the first edition of this work, and subsequently, I placed in a most conspicuous position—namely, at the close of the Introduction—the following words: “I am convinced that natural selection has been the main but not the exclusive means of modification.” This has been of no avail. Great is the power of steady misrepresentation; but the history of science shows that fortunately this power does not long endure.
But here I stop–short of any deterministic speculation that attributes specific behaviors to the possession of specific altruist or opportunist genes. Our genetic makeup permits a wide range of behaviors–from Ebenezer Scrooge before to Ebenezer Scrooge after. I do not believe that the miser hoards through opportunist genes or that the philanthropist gives because nature endowed him with more than the normal complement of altruist genes. Upbringing, culture, class, status, and all the intangibles that we call ‘free will,’ determine how we restrict our behaviors from the wide spectrum–extreme altruism to extreme selfishness–that our genes permit.
Despite the high long-term probability of extinction, every organism alive today, including every person reading this paper, is a link in an unbroken chain of parent-offspring relationships that extends back unbroken to the beginning of life on earth. Every living organism is a part of an enormously long success story—each of its direct ancestors has been sufficiently well adapted to its physical and biological environments to allow it to mature and reproduce successfully. Viewed thus, adaptation is not a trivial facet of natural history, but a biological attribute so central as to be inseparable from life itself.
Differences between individuals are the raw materials for evolutionary change and for the evolution of adaptations, yet of course most physiologists treat these differences as noise that is to be filtered out. From the standpoint of physiological ecology, the traditional emphasis of physiologists on central tendencies rather than on variance has some unhappy consequences. Variation is not just noise; it is also the stuff of evolution and a central attribute of living systems. The physiological differences between individuals in the same species or population, and also the patterns of variation in different groups, must not be ignored.
Doubtless the reasoning faculty, the mind, is the leading and characteristic attribute of the human race. By the exercise of this, man arrives at the properties of the natural bodies. This is science, properly and emphatically so called. It is the science of pure mathematics; and in the high branches of this science lies the truly sublime of human acquisition. If any attainment deserves that epithet, it is the knowledge, which, from the mensuration of the minutest dust of the balance, proceeds on the rising scale of material bodies, everywhere weighing, everywhere measuring, everywhere detecting and explaining the laws of force and motion, penetrating into the secret principles which hold the universe of God together, and balancing worlds against worlds, and system against system. When we seek to accompany those who pursue studies at once so high, so vast, and so exact; when we arrive at the discoveries of Newton, which pour in day on the works of God, as if a second fiat had gone forth from his own mouth; when, further, we attempt to follow those who set out where Newton paused, making his goal their starting-place, and, proceeding with demonstration upon demonstration, and discovery upon discovery, bring new worlds and new systems of worlds within the limits of the known universe, failing to learn all only because all is infinite; however we may say of man, in admiration of his physical structure, that “in form and moving he is express and admirable,” it is here, and here without irreverence, we may exclaim, “In apprehension how like a god!” The study of the pure mathematics will of course not be extensively pursued in an institution, which, like this [Boston Mechanics’ Institute], has a direct practical tendency and aim. But it is still to be remembered, that pure mathematics lie at the foundation of mechanical philosophy, and that it is ignorance only which can speak or think of that sublime science as useless research or barren speculation.
I attribute my success to this:— I never gave or took an excuse.
I find in the domestic duck that the bones of the wing weigh less and the bones of the leg more, in proportion to the whole skeleton, than do the same bones in the wild duck; and this change may be safely attributed to the domestic duck flying much less, and walking more, than its wild parents.
It is one thing to say, “Some men shall rule,” quite another to declare, “All men shall rule,” and that in virtue of the most primitive, the most rudimentary attribute they possess, that namely of sex.
It is primarily through the growth of science and technology that man has acquired those attributes which distinguish him from the animals, which have indeed made it possible for him to become human.
It is strange that we know so little about the properties of numbers. They are our handiwork, yet they baffle us; we can fathom only a few of their intricacies. Having defined their attributes and prescribed their behavior, we are hard pressed to perceive the implications of our formulas.
Mathematics, from the earliest times to which the history of human reason can reach, has followed, among that wonderful people of the Greeks, the safe way of science. But it must not be supposed that it was as easy for mathematics as for logic, in which reason is concerned with itself alone, to find, or rather to make for itself that royal road. I believe, on the contrary, that there was a long period of tentative work (chiefly still among the Egyptians), and that the change is to be ascribed to a revolution, produced by the happy thought of a single man, whose experiments pointed unmistakably to the path that had to be followed, and opened and traced out for the most distant times the safe way of a science. The history of that intellectual revolution, which was far more important than the passage round the celebrated Cape of Good Hope, and the name of its fortunate author, have not been preserved to us. … A new light flashed on the first man who demonstrated the properties of the isosceles triangle (whether his name was Thales or any other name), for he found that he had not to investigate what he saw in the figure, or the mere concepts of that figure, and thus to learn its properties; but that he had to produce (by construction) what he had himself, according to concepts a priori, placed into that figure and represented in it, so that, in order to know anything with certainty a priori, he must not attribute to that figure anything beyond what necessarily follows from what he has himself placed into it, in accordance with the concept.
Men, accustomed to think of men as possessing sex attributes and other things besides, are accustomed to think of women as having sex, and nothing else.
One must be wary in attributing scientific discovery wholly to any one person. Almost every discovery has a long and precarious history. Someone finds a bit here, another a bit there. A third step succeeds later and thus onward till a genius pieces the bits together and makes the decisive contribution. Science, like the Mississippi, begins in a tiny rivulet in the distant forest. Gradually other streams swell its volume. And the roaring river that bursts the dikes is formed from countless sources.
Philosophers no longer write for the intelligent, only for their fellow professionals. The few thousand academic philosophers in the world do not stint themselves: they maintain more than seventy learned journals. But in the handful that cover more than one subdivision of philosophy, any given philosopher can hardly follow more than one or two articles in each issue. This hermetic condition is attributed to “technical problems” in the subject. Since William James, Russell, and Whitehead, philosophy, like history, has been confiscated by scholarship and locked away from the contamination of general use.
The attainment of knowledge is the high and exclusive attribute of man, among the numberless myriads of animated beings, inhabitants of the terrestrial globe. On him alone is bestowed, by the bounty of the Creator of the universe, the power and the capacity of acquiring knowledge. Knowledge is the attribute of his nature which at once enables him to improve his condition upon earth, and to prepare him for the enjoyment of a happier existence hereafter.
The authors of literary works may not have intended all the subtleties, complexities, undertones, and overtones that are attributed to them by critics and by students writing doctoral theses.” That’s what God says about geologists, I told him...
The capacity to blunder slightly is the real marvel of DNA. Without this special attribute, we would still be anaerobic bacteria and there would be no music.
The degree of exactness of the intuition of space may be different in different individuals, perhaps even in different races. It would seem as if a strong naive space-intuition were an attribute pre-eminently of the Teutonic race, while the critical, purely logical sense is more fully developed in the Latin and Hebrew races. A full investigation of this subject, somewhat on the lines suggested by Francis Gallon in his researches on heredity, might be interesting.
The discovery of the conic sections, attributed to Plato, first threw open the higher species of form to the contemplation of geometers. But for this discovery, which was probably regarded in Plato’s tune and long after him, as the unprofitable amusement of a speculative brain, the whole course of practical philosophy of the present day, of the science of astronomy, of the theory of projectiles, of the art of navigation, might have run in a different channel; and the greatest discovery that has ever been made in the history of the world, the law of universal gravitation, with its innumerable direct and indirect consequences and applications to every department of human research and industry, might never to this hour have been elicited.
The genuine spirit of Mathesis is devout. No intellectual pursuit more truly leads to profound impressions of the existence and attributes of a Creator, and to a deep sense of our filial relations to him, than the study of these abstract sciences. Who can understand so well how feeble are our conceptions of Almighty Power, as he who has calculated the attraction of the sun and the planets, and weighed in his balance the irresistible force of the lightning? Who can so well understand how confused is our estimate of the Eternal Wisdom, as he who has traced out the secret laws which guide the hosts of heaven, and combine the atoms on earth? Who can so well understand that man is made in the image of his Creator, as he who has sought to frame new laws and conditions to govern imaginary worlds, and found his own thoughts similar to those on which his Creator has acted?
The number of humble-bees in any district depends in a great degree on the number of field-mice, which destroy their combs and nests; and Mr. H. Newman, who has long attended to the habits of humble-bees, ... says “Near villages and small towns I have found the nests of humble-bees more numerous than elsewhere, which I attribute to the number of cats that destroy the mice.” Hence it is quite credible that the presence of a feline animal in large numbers in a district might determine, through the intervention first of mice and then of bees, the frequency of certain flowers in that district!
The only universal attribute of scientific statements resides in their potential fallibility. If a claim cannot be disproven, it does not belong to the enterprise of science.
The valuable attributes of research men are conscious ignorance and active curiosity.
There is a science which investigates being as being and the attributes which belong to this in virtue of its own nature. Now this is not the same as any of the so-called special sciences; for none of these treats universally of being as being. They cut off a part of being and investigate the attribute of this part; this is what the mathematical sciences for instance do. Now since we are seeking the first principles and the highest causes, clearly there must be some thing to which these belong in virtue of its own nature. If then those who sought the elements of existing things were seeking these same principles, it is necessary that the elements must be elements of being not by accident but just because it is being. Therefore it is of being as being that we also must grasp the first causes.
There is nothing, in itself, valuable or despicable, desirable or hateful, beautiful or deformed; but that these attributes arise from the particular constitution and fabric of human sentiment and affection.
To ask what qualities distinguish good from routine scientific research is to address a question that should be of central concern to every scientist. We can make the question more tractable by rephrasing it, “What attributes are shared by the scientific works which have contributed importantly to our understanding of the physical world—in this case the world of living things?” Two of the most widely accepted characteristics of good scientific work are generality of application and originality of conception. . These qualities are easy to point out in the works of others and, of course extremely difficult to achieve in one’s own research. At first hearing novelty and generality appear to be mutually exclusive, but they really are not. They just have different frames of reference. Novelty has a human frame of reference; generality has a biological frame of reference. Consider, for example, Darwinian Natural Selection. It offers a mechanism so widely applicable as to be almost coexistent with reproduction, so universal as to be almost axiomatic, and so innovative that it shook, and continues to shake, man’s perception of causality.
We are accustomed to say that every human being displays both male and female instinctual impulses, needs, and attributes, but the characteristics of what is male and female can only be demonstrated in anatomy, and not in psychology.
We need go back only a few centuries to find the great mass of people depending on religion for the satisfaction of practically all their wishes. From rain out of the sky to good health on earth, they sought their desires at the altars of their gods. Whether they wanted large families, good crops, freedom from pestilence, or peace of mind, they conceived themselves as dependent on the favor of heaven. Then science came with its alternative, competitive method of getting what we want. That is science’s most important attribute. As an intellectual influence it is powerful enough, but as a practical way of achieving man’s desires it is overwhelming.
When men are ignorant of the natural causes producing things, and cannot even explain them by analogy with similar things, they attribute their own nature to them. The vulgar, for example, say the magnet loves the iron.
[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.
~~[Attributed]~~ You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.