Comparative Quotes (14 quotes)
Biological disciplines tend to guide research into certain channels. One consequence is that disciplines are apt to become parochial, or at least to develop blind spots, for example, to treat some questions as “interesting” and to dismiss others as “uninteresting.” As a consequence, readily accessible but unworked areas of genuine biological interest often lie in plain sight but untouched within one discipline while being heavily worked in another. For example, historically insect physiologists have paid relatively little attention to the behavioral and physiological control of body temperature and its energetic and ecological consequences, whereas many students of the comparative physiology of terrestrial vertebrates have been virtually fixated on that topic. For the past 10 years, several of my students and I have exploited this situation by taking the standard questions and techniques from comparative vertebrate physiology and applying them to insects. It is surprising that this pattern of innovation is not more deliberately employed.
He who gives a portion of his time and talent to the investigation of mathematical truth will come to all other questions with a decided advantage over his opponents. He will be in argument what the ancient Romans were in the field: to them the day of battle was a day of comparative recreation, because they were ever accustomed to exercise with arms much heavier than they fought; and reviews differed from a real battle in two respects: they encountered more fatigue, but the victory was bloodless.
Historical science is not worse, more restricted, or less capable of achieving firm conclusions because experiment, prediction, and subsumption under invariant laws of nature do not represent its usual working methods. The sciences of history use a different mode of explanation, rooted in the comparative and observational richness in our data. We cannot see a past event directly, but science is usually based on inference, not unvarnished observation (you don’t see electrons, gravity, or black holes either).
I do not see any reason to assume that the heuristic significance of the principle of general relativity is restricted to gravitation and that the rest of physics can be dealt with separately on the basis of special relativity, with the hope that later on the whole may be fitted consistently into a general relativistic scheme. I do not think that such an attitude, although historically understandable, can be objectively justified. The comparative smallness of what we know today as gravitational effects is not a conclusive reason for ignoring the principle of general relativity in theoretical investigations of a fundamental character. In other words, I do not believe that it is justifiable to ask: What would physics look like without gravitation?
It is not surprising that science has made comparatively little advance among us, but that … it should have made so much.
It is not surprising, in view of the polydynamic constitution of the genuinely mathematical mind, that many of the major heros of the science, men like Desargues and Pascal, Descartes and Leibnitz, Newton, Gauss and Bolzano, Helmholtz and Clifford, Riemann and Salmon and Plücker and Poincaré, have attained to high distinction in other fields not only of science but of philosophy and letters too. And when we reflect that the very greatest mathematical achievements have been due, not alone to the peering, microscopic, histologic vision of men like Weierstrass, illuminating the hidden recesses, the minute and intimate structure of logical reality, but to the larger vision also of men like Klein who survey the kingdoms of geometry and analysis for the endless variety of things that flourish there, as the eye of Darwin ranged over the flora and fauna of the world, or as a commercial monarch contemplates its industry, or as a statesman beholds an empire; when we reflect not only that the Calculus of Probability is a creation of mathematics but that the master mathematician is constantly required to exercise judgment—judgment, that is, in matters not admitting of certainty—balancing probabilities not yet reduced nor even reducible perhaps to calculation; when we reflect that he is called upon to exercise a function analogous to that of the comparative anatomist like Cuvier, comparing theories and doctrines of every degree of similarity and dissimilarity of structure; when, finally, we reflect that he seldom deals with a single idea at a tune, but is for the most part engaged in wielding organized hosts of them, as a general wields at once the division of an army or as a great civil administrator directs from his central office diverse and scattered but related groups of interests and operations; then, I say, the current opinion that devotion to mathematics unfits the devotee for practical affairs should be known for false on a priori grounds. And one should be thus prepared to find that as a fact Gaspard Monge, creator of descriptive geometry, author of the classic Applications de l’analyse à la géométrie; Lazare Carnot, author of the celebrated works, Géométrie de position, and Réflections sur la Métaphysique du Calcul infinitesimal; Fourier, immortal creator of the Théorie analytique de la chaleur; Arago, rightful inheritor of Monge’s chair of geometry; Poncelet, creator of pure projective geometry; one should not be surprised, I say, to find that these and other mathematicians in a land sagacious enough to invoke their aid, rendered, alike in peace and in war, eminent public service.
Men cannot help feeling a little ashamed of their cousin-german the Ape. His close yet grotesque and clumsy semblance of the human form is accompanied by no gleams of higher instinct. Our humble friend the dog, our patient fellow-labourer the horse, are nearer to us in this respect. The magnanimous and sagacious elephant, doomed though he be to all fours, is godlike compared with this spitefully ferocious creature. Strangely enough, too, the most repulsive and ferocious of all apekind, the recently discovered Gorilla is, the comparative anatomist assures us, nearest to us all: the most closely allied in structure to the human form.
Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the social behavior of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns and the types of organisation which predominate in society. It is on this that those who are striving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes: human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate.
Progress is a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative.
Sophus Lie, great comparative anatomist of geometric theories.
That the main results of the astronomer’s work are not so immediately practical does not detract from their value. They are, I venture to think, the more to be prized on that account. Astronomy has profoundly influenced the thought of the race. In fact, it has been the keystone in the arch of the sciences under which we have marched out from the darkness of the fifteenth and preceding centuries to the comparative light of to-day.
The flights of the imagination which occur to the pure mathematician are in general so much better described in his formulas than in words, that it is not remarkable to find the subject treated by outsiders as something essentially cold and uninteresting— … the only successful attempt to invest mathematical reasoning with a halo of glory—that made in this section by Prof. Sylvester—is known to a comparative few, …
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.
Why does such and such animal feed only on flesh, while another on plants? Where does one get the finesse of its sense of smell, or that of its hearing? What is the source of the prodigious strength of the muscles of birds? How is this force used to produce this amazing movement of flight? How does it come about that the bird sees equally well at quite different distances? What is the cause of the range and variety of its voice? Why is a reptile so lethargic? Why does a worm stay alive long after being divided? Why can a zoophyte live equally well with some parts of its body cut off? Is it presumed there could be natural history without these questions, and thousands of others like them, and do we think we can answer without a thorough comparative anatomy?