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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index C > Category: Complexity

Complexity Quotes (80 quotes)

Parkinson's Third Law: Expansion means complexity, and complexity decay.
In Laws and Outlaws (1962), 168.
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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 clinician is complex. He is part craftsman, part practical scientist, and part historian.
Glomerular Nephritis, Diagnosis and Treatment (1948), 120.
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A tool is but the extension of a man's hand, and a machine is but a complex tool. He that invents a machine augments the power of a man and the well being of mankind.
In Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit (1887), 44. It appears as one of the quotations featured in one of the hallways of the first floor of the U.S. Capitols House wing, which are known as the Cox Corridors, after Allyn Cox, the artist who decorated them.
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Again, it [the Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine. Supposing for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.
In Richard Taylor (ed.), 'Translator’s Notes to M. Menabrea’s Memoir', Scientific Memoirs, Selected from the Transactions of Foreign Academies and Learned Societies and from Foreign Journals (1843), 3, Note A, 694. Her notes were appended to L.F. Menabrea, of Turin, Officer of the Military Engineers, 'Article XXIX: Sketch of the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage Esq.', Bibliothèque Universelle de Gnve (Oct 1842), No. 82.
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An atom must be at least as complex as a grand piano.
As quoted by Oliver Lodge in Atoms and Rays (1924, 1931), 78. Lodge refers to this as a saying of W. K. Clifford who was “my brilliant teacher of more than half a century ago.”
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Art arises in those strange complexities of action that are called human beings. It is a kind of human behavior. As such it is not magic, except as human beings are magical. Nor is it concerned in absolutes, eternities, “forms,” beyond those that may reside in the context of the human being and be subject to his vicissitudes. Art is not an inner state of consciousness, whatever that may mean. Neither is it essentially a supreme form of communication. Art is human behavior, and its values are contained in human behavior.
In Art Is Action: A Discussion of Nine Arts in a Modern World (1939), 1.
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As soon as we touch the complex processes that go on in a living thing, be it plant or animal, we are at once forced to use the methods of this science [chemistry]. No longer will the microscope, the kymograph, the scalpel avail for the complete solution of the problem. For the further analysis of these phenomena which are in flux and flow, the investigator must associate himself with those who have labored in fields where molecules and atoms, rather than multicellular tissues or even unicellular organisms, are the units of study.
'Experimental and Chemical Studies of the Blood with an Appeal for More Extended Chemical Training for the Biological and Medical Investigator', Science (6 Aug 1915), 42, 176.
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Avoid complexities. Make everything as simple as possible.
As quoted in Joseph Wickham Roe, English and American Tool Builders (1916), 49.
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Bacteria represent the world’s greatest success story. They are today and have always been the modal organisms on earth; they cannot be nuked to oblivion and will outlive us all. This time is their time, not the ‘age of mammals’ as our textbooks chauvinistically proclaim. But their price for such success is permanent relegation to a microworld, and they cannot know the joy and pain of consciousness. We live in a universe of trade-offs; complexity and persistence do not work well as partners.
…...
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Before a complex of sensations becomes a recollection placeable in time, it has ceased to be actual. We must lose our awareness of its infinite complexity, or it is still actual ... It is only after a memory has lost all life that it can be classed in time, just as only dissected flowers find their way into the herbarium of a botanist.
…...
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Borel makes the amusing supposition of a million monkeys allowed to play upon the keys of a million typewriters. What is the chance that this wanton activity should reproduce exactly all of the volumes which are contained in the library of the British Museum? It certainly is not a large chance, but it may be roughly calculated, and proves in fact to be considerably larger than the chance that a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen will separate into the two pure constituents. After we have learned to estimate such minute chances, and after we have overcome our fear of numbers which are very much larger or very much smaller than those ordinarily employed, we might proceed to calculate the chance of still more extraordinary occurrences, and even have the boldness to regard the living cell as a result of random arrangement and rearrangement of its atoms. However, we cannot but feel that this would be carrying extrapolation too far. This feeling is due not merely to a recognition of the enormous complexity of living tissue but to the conviction that the whole trend of life, the whole process of building up more and more diverse and complex structures, which we call evolution, is the very opposite of that which we might expect from the laws of chance.
The Anatomy of Science (1926), 158-9.
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Both science and art have to do with ordered complexity.
In The Griffin (1957), 6, No 10.
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Built up of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, together with traces of a few other elements, yet of a complexity of structure that has hitherto resisted all attempts at complete analysis, protoplasm is at once the most enduring and the most easily destroyed of substances; its molecules are constantly breaking down to furnish the power for the manifestations of vital phenomena, and yet, through its remarkable property of assimilation, a power possessed by nothing else upon earth, it constantly builds up its substance anew from the surrounding medium.
In History of the Human Body (1919), 1.
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Combining in our survey then, the whole range of deposits from the most recent to the most ancient group, how striking a succession do they present:– so various yet so uniform–so vast yet so connected. In thus tracing back to the most remote periods in the physical history of our continents, one system of operations, as the means by which many complex formations have been successively produced, the mind becomes impressed with the singleness of nature's laws; and in this respect, at least, geology is hardly inferior in simplicity to astronomy.
The Silurian System (1839), 574.
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Complexity is the prodigy of the world. Simplicity is the sensation of the universe. Behind complexity, there is always simplicity to be revealed. Inside simplicity, there is always complexity to be discovered
Gang Yu
In course Syllabus for 'Algorithm Design and Implementations' (2004) on mccombs.utexas.edu web site.
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Creationists have also changed their name ... to intelligent design theorists who study 'irreducible complexity' and the 'abrupt appearance' of life—yet more jargon for 'God did it.' ... Notice that they have no interest in replacing evolution with native American creation myths or including the Code of Hammarabi alongside the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools.
'75 Years and Still No Peace'. Humanist (Sep 2000)
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For many of us, water simply flows from a faucet, and we think little about it beyond this point of contact. We have lost a sense of respect for the wild river, for the complex workings of a wetland, for the intricate web of life that water supports.
Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity (1997), 184.
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Had I been present at the Creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better ordering of the universe.
Remarking on the complexity of Ptolemaic model of the universe after it was explained to him.
Footnote: Carlyle says, in his History of Frederick the Great, book ii. chap. vii. that this saying of Alphonso about Ptolemy's astronomy, 'that it seemed a crank machine; that it was pity the Creator had not taken advice,' is still remembered by mankind, — this and no other of his many sayings.
In John Bartlett and Nathan Haskell Dole (Ed.), Familiar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources (1914), 954.
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I claim that many patterns of Nature are so irregular and fragmented, that, compared with Euclid—a term used in this work to denote all of standard geometry—Nature exhibits not simply a higher degree but an altogether different level of complexity … The existence of these patterns challenges us to study these forms that Euclid leaves aside as being “formless,” to investigate the morphology of the “amorphous.”
Cited as from Fractals: Form, Chance, and Dimension (1977), by J.W. Cannon, in review of The Fractal Geometry of Nature (1982) in The American Mathematical Monthly (Nov 1984), 91, No. 9, 594.
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I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.
Attributed. Quoted in James GleickChaos (1988), 38. Contact webmaster if you know a primary print source.
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I realized that my prior projects were just finger warm-ups. Now I have to tackle complexity itself. But it took long, before I had assembled the courage to do so.
…...
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I think the next [21st] century will be the century of complexity. We have already discovered the basic laws that govern matter and understand all the normal situations. We don’t know how the laws fit together, and what happens under extreme conditions. But I expect we will find a complete unified theory sometime this century. The is no limit to the complexity that we can build using those basic laws.
[Answer to question: Some say that while the twentieth century was the century of physics, we are now entering the century of biology. What do you think of this?]
'"Unified Theory" Is Getting Closer, Hawking Predicts', interview in San Jose Mercury News (23 Jan 2000), 29A. Answer quoted in Ashok Sengupta, Chaos, Nonlinearity, Complexity: The Dynamical Paradigm of Nature (2006), vii. Question included in Hans-Joachim Schellnhuber, Nicholas Stern and Mario Molina , Global Sustainability: a Nobel Cause (2010), 13. Cite from Brent Davis and Dennis J. Sumara, Complexity and Education: Inquiries Into Learning, Teaching, and Research (2006), 171.
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I trust ... I have succeeded in convincing you that modern chemistry is not, as it has so long appeared, an ever-growing accumulation of isolated facts, as impossible for a single intellect to co-ordinate as for a single memory to grasp.
The intricate formulae that hang upon these walls, and the boundless variety of phenomena they illustrate, are beginning to be for us as a labyrinth once impassable, but to which we have at length discovered the clue. A sense of mastery and power succeeds in our minds to the sort of weary despair with which we at first contemplated their formidable array. For now, by the aid of a few general principles, we find ourselves able to unravel the complexities of these formulae, to marshal the compounds which they represent in orderly series; nay, even to multiply their numbers at our will, and in a great measure to forecast their nature ere we have called them into existence. It is the great movement of modern chemistry that we have thus, for an hour, seen passing before us. It is a movement as of light spreading itself over a waste of obscurity, as of law diffusing order throughout a wilderness of confusion, and there is surely in its contemplation something of the pleasure which attends the spectacle of a beautiful daybreak, something of the grandeur belonging to the conception of a world created out of chaos.
Concluding remark for paper presented at the Friday Discourse of the the Royal Institution (7 Apr 1865). 'On the Combining Power of Atoms', Proceedings of the Royal Institution (1865), 4, No. 42, 416.
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If I were working in astrophysics I would find it quite hard to explain to people what I was doing. Natural history is a pretty easy thing to explain. It does have its complexities, but nowhere do you speak about things that are outside people’s experience. You might speak about a species that is outside their experience, but nothing as remote as astrophysics.
From interview with Michael Bond, 'It’s a Wonderful Life', New Scientist (14 Dec 2002), 176, No. 2373, 48.
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If the task of scientific methodology is to piece together an account of what scientists actually do, then the testimony of biologists should be heard with specially close attention. Biologists work very close to the frontier between bewilderment and understanding.
Biology is complex, messy and richly various, like real life; it travels faster nowadays than physics or chemistry (which is just as well, since it has so much farther to go), and it travels nearer to the ground. It should therefore give us a specially direct and immediate insight into science in the making.
Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought (1969), 1.
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If this seems complex, the reason is because Tao is both simple and complex. It is complex when we try to understand it, and simple when we allow ourselves to experience it.
In Gary William Flake, The Computational Beauty of Nature (2000), 327.
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If we lived on a planet where nothing ever changed, there would be little to do. There would be nothing to figure out. There would be no impetus for science. And if we lived in an unpredictable world, where things changed in random or very complex ways, we would not be able to figure things out. But we live in an in-between universe, where things change, but according to patterns, rules, or as we call them, laws of nature. If I throw a stick up in the air, it always falls down. If the sun sets in the west, it always rises again the next morning in the east. And so it becomes possible to figure things out. We can do science, and with it we can improve our lives.
Cosmos (1980, 1985), 32.
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It is possible with … carbon … to form very large molecules that are stable. This results from the stability of the carbon-to-carbon bond. You must have complexity in order to achieve the versatility characteristic of living organisms. You can achieve this complexity with carbon forming the molecular backbone.
From interview with Neil A. Campbell, in 'Crossing the Boundaries of Science', BioScience (Dec 1986), 36, No. 11, 739.
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It is, as Schrödinger has remarked, a miracle that in spite of the baffling complexity of the world, certain regularities in the events could be discovered. One such regularity, discovered by Galileo, is that two rocks, dropped at the same time from the same height, reach the ground at the same time. The laws of nature are concerned with such regularities.
In 'The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,' Communications in Pure and Applied Mathematics (Feb 1960), 13, No. 1 (February 1960). Collected in Eugene Paul Wigner, A.S. Wightman (ed.), Jagdish Mehra (ed.), The Collected Works of Eugene Paul Wigner (1955), Vol. 6, 537.
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It seems to me that the view toward which we are tending is that the specificity in gene action is always a chemical specificity, probably the production of enzymes which guide metabolic processes along particular channels. A given array of genes thus determines the production of a particular kind of protoplasm with particular properties—such, for example, as that of responding to surface forces by the formation of a special sort of semipermeable membrane, and that of responding to trivial asymmetries in the play of external stimuli by polarization, with consequent orderly quantitative gradients in all physiologic processes. Different genes may now be called into play at different points in this simple pattern, either through the local formation of their specific substrates for action, or by activation of a mutational nature. In either case the pattern becomes more complex and qualitatively differentiated. Successive interactions of differentiated regions and the calling into play of additional genes may lead to any degree of complexity of pattern in the organism as a largely self-contained system. The array of genes, assembled in the course of evolution, must of course be one which determines a highly self­regulatory system of reactions. On this view the genes are highly specific chemically, and thus called into play only under very specific conditions; but their morphological effects, if any, rest on quantitative influences of immediate or remote products on growth gradients, which are resultants of all that has gone on before in the organism.
In 'Genetics of Abnormal Growth in the Guinea Pig', Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology (1934), 2, 142.
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Let us ... consider the ovum [egg] as a physical system. Its potentialities are prodigious and one's first impulse is to expect that such vast potentialities would find expression in complexity of structure. But what do we find? The substance is clouded with particles, but these can be centrifuged away leaving it optically structureless but still capable of development.... On the surface of the egg there is a fine membrane, below it fluid of high viscosity, next fluid of relatively low viscosity, and within this the nucleus, which in the resting stage is simply a bag of fluid enclosed in a delicate membrane.... The egg's simplicity is not that of a machine or a crystal, but that of a nebula. Gathered into it are units relatively simple but capable by their combinations of forming a vast number of dynamical systems...
As guest of honour, closing day address (Jun 1928), Sixth Colloid Symposium, Toronto, Canada, 'Living Matter', printed in Harry Boyer Weiser (ed.), Colloid Symposium Monograph (1928), Vol. 6, 15. Quoted in Joseph Needham, Chemical Embryology (1931), Vol. 1, 612-613.
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Let us keep the discoveries and indisputable measurements of physics. But ... A more complete study of the movements of the world will oblige us, little by little, to turn it upside down; in other words, to discover that if things hold and hold together, it is only by reason of complexity, from above.
In Teilhard de Chardin and Bernard Wall (trans.), The Phenomenon of Man (1959, 2008), 43. Originally published in French as Le Phénomene Humain (1955).
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Life arose as a living molecule or protogene, the progression from this stage to that of the ameba is at least as great as from ameba to man. All the essential problems of living organisms are already solved in the one-celled (or, as many now prefer to say, noncellular) protozoan and these are only elaborated in man or the other multicellular animals. The step from nonlife to life may not have been so complex, after all, and that from cell to multicellular organism is readily comprehensible. The change from protogene to protozoan was probably the most complex that has occurred in evolution, and it may well have taken as long as the change from protozoan to man.
The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life and of its Significance for Man (1949), 16
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Mere infants of the universe, with no feel for infinity, no sense of place in time and space, we human beings have yet to comprehend the enormity of what we are doing: In a geological second, we are unraveling complexities it took eternity to create.
In Jacques Cousteau and Susan Schiefelbein, The Human, the Orchid, and the Octopus: Exploring and Conserving Our Natural World (2007), 107.
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Nature is disordered, powerful and chaotic, and through fear of the chaos we impose system on it. We abhor complexity, and seek to simplify things whenever we can by whatever means we have at hand. We need to have an overall explanation of what the universe is and how it functions. In order to achieve this overall view we develop explanatory theories which will give structure to natural phenomena: we classify nature into a coherent system which appears to do what we say it does.
In Day the Universe Changed (1985), 11.
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Nobody knows more than a tiny fragment of science well enough to judge its validity and value at first hand. For the rest he has to rely on views accepted at second hand on the authority of a community of people accredited as scientists. But this accrediting depends in its turn on a complex organization. For each member of the community can judge at first hand only a small number of his fellow members, and yet eventually each is accredited by all. What happens is that each recognizes as scientists a number of others by whom he is recognized as such in return, and these relations form chains which transmit these mutual recognitions at second hand through the whole community. This is how each member becomes directly or indirectly accredited by all. The system extends into the past. Its members recognize the same set of persons as their masters and derive from this allegiance a common tradition, of which each carries on a particular strand.
Personal Knowledge (1958), 163.
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Now, in the development of our knowledge of the workings of Nature out of the tremendously complex assemblage of phenomena presented to the scientific inquirer, mathematics plays in some respects a very limited, in others a very important part. As regards the limitations, it is merely necessary to refer to the sciences connected with living matter, and to the ologies generally, to see that the facts and their connections are too indistinctly known to render mathematical analysis practicable, to say nothing of the complexity.
From article 'Electro-magnetic Theory II', in The Electrician (16 Jan 1891), 26, No. 661, 331.
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Now, we propose in the first place to show, that this law of organic progress is the law of all progress. Whether it be in the development of the Earth, in the development in Life upon its surface, in the development of Society, of Government, of Manufactures, of Commerce, of Language, Literature, Science, Art, this same evolution of the simple into the complex, through a process of continuous differentiation, holds throughout. From the earliest traceable cosmical changes down to the latest results of civilization, we shall find that the transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous is that in which Progress essentially consists.
'Progress: Its Law and Cause', Westminster Review (1857), 67, 446-7.
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One can truly say that the irresistible progress of natural science since the time of Galileo has made its first halt before the study of the higher parts of the brain, the organ of the most complicated relations of the animal to the external world. And it seems, and not without reason, that now is the really critical moment for natural science; for the brain, in its highest complexity—the human brain—which created and creates natural science, itself becomes the object of this science.
Natural Science and Brain (1909), 120.
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Order is not sufficient. What is required, is something much more complex. It is order entering upon novelty; so that the massiveness of order does not degenerate into mere repetition; and so that the novelty is always reflected upon a background of system.
Alfred North Whitehead, David Ray Griffin (ed.), Donald W. Sherburne (ed.), Process and Reality: an Essay in Cosmology (2nd Ed.,1979), 339.
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Perhaps I am just a hopeless rationalist, but isn’t fascination as comforting as solace? Isn’t nature immeasurably more interesting for its complexities and its lack of conformity to our hopes? Isn’t curiosity as wondrously and fundamentally human as compassion?
…...
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Physics is becoming so unbelievably complex that it is taking longer and longer to train a physicist. It is taking so long, in fact, to train a physicist to the place where he understands the nature of physical problems that he is already too old to solve them.
As quoted by Colin Pittendrigh (1971). In George C. Beakley, Ernest G. Chilton, Introduction to Engineering Design and Graphics (1973), 40
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Realizing how often ingenious speculation in the complex biological world has led nowhere and how often the real advances in biology as well as in chemistry, physics and astronomy have kept within the bounds of mechanistic interpretation, we geneticists should rejoice, even with our noses on the grindstone (which means both eyes on the objectives), that we have at command an additional means of testing whatever original ideas pop into our heads.
'The Rise of Genetics', Science (1932), 1969, 264.
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Rules of Thumb
Thumb’s First Postulate: It is better to use a crude approximation and know the truth, plus or minus 10 percent, than demand an exact solution and know nothing at all.
Thumb’s Second Postulate: An easily understood, workable falsehood is more useful than a complex incomprehensible truth.
Anonymous
In Arthur Bloch, The Complete Murphy's Law: A Definitive Collection (1991), 126.
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Science has explored the microcosmos and the macrocosmos; we have a good sense of the lay of the land. The great unexplored frontier is complexity.
In The Dreams of Reason: The Computer and the Rise of the Sciences of Complexity (1988), 12.
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Science is complex and chilling. The mathematical language of science is understood by very few. The vistas it presents are scary—an enormous universe ruled by chance and impersonal rules, empty and uncaring, ungraspable and vertiginous. How comfortable to turn instead to a small world, only a few thousand years old, and under God's personal; and immediate care; a world in which you are His peculiar concern.
The 'Threat' of Creationism. In Ashley Montagu (ed.), Science and Creationism (1984), 192.
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The advance from the simple to the complex, through a process of successive differentiations, is seen alike in the earliest changes of the Universe to which we can reason our way back, and in the earliest changes which we can inductively establish; it is seen in the geologic and climatic evolution of the Earth; it is seen in the unfolding of every single organism on its surface, and in the multiplication of kinds of organisms; it is seen in the evolution of Humanity, whether contemplated in the civilized individual, or in the aggregate of races; it is seen in the evolution of Society in respect alike of its political, its religious, and its economical organization; and it is seen in the evolution of all those endless concrete and abstract products of human activity which constitute the environment of our daily life. From the remotest past which Science can fathom, up to the novelties of yesterday, that in which Progress essentially consists, is the transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous.
Progress: Its Law and Cause (1857), 35.
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The advances of biology during the past 20 years have been breathtaking, particularly in cracking the mystery of heredity. Nevertheless, the greatest and most difficult problems still lie ahead. The discoveries of the 1970‘s about the chemical roots of memory in nerve cells or the basis of learning, about the complex behavior of man and animals, the nature of growth, development, disease and aging will be at least as fundamental and spectacular as those of the recent past.
As quoted in 'H. Bentley Glass', New York Times (12 Jan 1970), 96.
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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...
Basin and Range
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The complexity of an object depends not on itself, but of the degree to which it is investigated, and the questions we ourselves raise in investigating it.
In The Unity of Science (1921), 141.
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The complexity of the world is the outcome of huge numbers of sometimes conflicting simple events.
In 'Religion - The Antithesis to Science', Chemistry & Industry (Feb 1997).
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The earliest signs of living things, announcing as they do a high complexity of organization, entirely exclude the hypothesis of a transmutation from lower to higher grades of being. The first fiat of Creation which went forth, doubtlessly ensured the perfect adaptation of animals to the surrounding media; and thus, whilst the geologist recognizes a beginning, he can see in the innumerable facts of the eye of the earliest crustacean, the same evidences of Omniscience as in the completion of the vertebrate form.
Siluria (1854), 469.
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The great enemy of communication, we find, is the illusion of it. We have talked enough; but we have not listened. And by not listening we have failed to concede the immense complexity of our society–and thus the great gaps between ourselves and those with whom we seek understanding.
In magazine article, 'Is Anybody Listening?', Fortune magazine (Sep 1950), 174.
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The growing complexity of civilized life demands with each age broader and more exact knowledge as to the material surroundings and greater precision in our recognition of the invisible forces or tendencies about us.
From Presidential Address (5 Dec 1896) to the Biological Society of Washington, 'The Malarial Parasite and Other Pathogenic Protozoa', Popular Science Monthly (Mar 1897), 642.
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The investigation of causal relations between economic phenomena presents many problems of peculiar difficulty, and offers many opportunities for fallacious conclusions. Since the statistician can seldom or never make experiments for himself, he has to accept the data of daily experience, and discuss as best he can the relations of a whole group of changes; he cannot, like the physicist, narrow down the issue to the effect of one variation at a time. The problems of statistics are in this sense far more complex than the problems of physics.
Udny Yule
In 'On the Theory of Correlation', Journal of the Royal Statistical Society (Dec 1897), 60, 812, as cited in Stephen M. Stigler, The History of Statistics: The Measurement of Uncertainty Before 1900 (1986), 348.
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The method of science depends on our attempts to describe the world with simple theories: theories that are complex may become untestable, even if they happen to be true. Science may be described as the art of systematic over-simplification—the art of discerning what we may with advantage omit.
Karl Raimund Popper and William Warren Bartley (ed.), The Open Universe: an Argument for Indeterminism (1991), 44. by Karl Raimund Popper, William Warren Bartley - Science - 1991
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The most complex object in mathematics, the Mandelbrot Set … is so complex as to be uncontrollable by mankind and describable as “chaos.”
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The most extensive computation known has been conducted over the last billion years on a planet-wide scale: it is the evolution of life. The power of this computation is illustrated by the complexity and beauty of its crowning achievement, the human brain.
In Gary William Flake, The Computational Beauty of Nature (2000), 415.
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The nervous system is the most complex and delicate instrument on our planet, by means of which relations, connections are established between the numerous parts of the organism, as well as between the organism, as a highly complex system, and the innumerable, external influences. If the closing and opening of electric current is now regarded as an ordinary technical device, why should there be any objection to the idea that the same principle acts in this wonderful instrument? On this basis the constant connection between the external agent and the response of the organism, which it evokes, can be rightly called an unconditioned reflex, and the temporary connection—a conditioned reflex.
The Conditioned Reflex (1935), 249.
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The northern ocean is beautiful, ... and beautiful the delicate intricacy of the snowflake before it melts and perishes, but such beauties are as nothing to him who delights in numbers, spurning alike the wild irrationality of life and baffling complexity of nature’s laws.
In Kandelman's Krim: A Realistic Fantasy (1957), 101.
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The physicist is like someone who’s watching people playing chess and, after watching a few games, he may have worked out what the moves in the game are. But understanding the rules is just a trivial preliminary on the long route from being a novice to being a grand master. So even if we understand all the laws of physics, then exploring their consequences in the everyday world where complex structures can exist is a far more daunting task, and that’s an inexhaustible one I'm sure.
In Lewis Wolpert and Alison Richards, A Passion For Science (1988), 37.
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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.
'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 techniques and criteria of religion and science are so extraordinarily different. Science seeks simplicity publicly and encourages the overthrow of authority; religion accepts complexity privately and encourages deference to authority.
In 'Religion - The Antithesis to Science', Chemistry & Industry (Feb 1997).
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The techniques have galloped ahead of the concepts. We have moved away from studying the complexity of the organism; from processes and organisation to composition.
[Commenting that growing use of new technologies and techniques, from molecular biology to genomics, has proved a mixed blessing.]
Quoted in Andrew Jack, "An Acute Talent for Innovation", Financial Times (1 Feb 2009).
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The truly awesome intellectuals in our history have not merely made discoveries; they have woven variegated, but firm, tapestries of comprehensive coverage. The tapestries have various fates: Most burn or unravel in the foot steps of time and the fires of later discovery. But their glory lies in their integrity as unified structures of great complexity and broad implication.
…...
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There might have been a hundred or a thousand life-bearing planets, had the course of evolution of the universe been a little different, or there might have been none at all. They would probably add, that, as life and man have been produced, that shows that their production was possible; and therefore, if not now then at some other time, if not here then in some other planet of some other sun, we should be sure to have come into existence; or if not precisely the same as we are, then something a little better or a little worse.
From Conclusion to Man's Place in the Universe: A Study of the Results of Scientific Research (1903), 315.
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These facts shaw that mitosis is due to the co-ordinate play of an extremely complex system of forces which are as yet scarcely comprehended. Its purpose is, however, as obvious as its physiological explanation is difficult. It is the end of mitosis to divide every part of the chromatin of the mother-cell equally between the daughter-nuclei. All the other operations are tributary to this. We may therefore regard the mitotic figure as essentially an apparatus for the distribution of the hereditary substance, and in this sense as the especial instrument of inheritance.
The Cell in Development and Inheritance (1896), 86.
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To create a human through genetic engineering that is more complex, more refined, more subtle, farther from animals, than the ones we have today.
The Genes of Hope. In Marc J. Madou, Fundamentals of Microfabrication: the Science of Miniaturization (2nd ed., 2002), 467.
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We divorced ourselves from the materials of the earth, the rock, the wood, the iron ore; we looked to new materials which were cooked in vats, long complex derivatives of urine which we called plastic. They had no odor of the living, ... their touch was alien to nature. ... [They proliferated] like the matastases of cancer cells.
The Idol and the Octopus: political writings (1968), 83 and 118.
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We only have to look around us to see how complexity ... and psychic “temperature” are still rising: and rising no longer on the scale of the individual but now on that of the planet. This indication is so familiar to us that we cannot but recognize the objective, experiential, reality of a directionally controlled transformation of the Noosphere “as a whole.”
In Teilhard de Chardin and René Hague (trans.), The Heart of Matter (1950, 1978), 38. His term Noosphere refers to the collective sphere of human consciousness.
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When I was 9, my parents gave me a Commodore 64, which was fun. At the time, the opportunity to program your own computer was easier than it is today. Today there are significantly larger barriers because of the complexity built into computing.
From address at a conference on Google campus, co-hosted with Common Sense Media and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop 'Breakthrough Learning in the Digital Age'. As quoted in Technology blog report by Dan Fost, 'Google co-founder Sergey Brin wants more computers in schools', Los Angeles Times (28 Oct 2009). On latimesblogs.latimes.com website. As quoted, without citation, in Can Akdeniz, Fast MBA (2014), 280.
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When two texts, or two assertions, perhaps two ideas, are in contradiction, be ready to reconcile them rather than cancel one by the other; regard them as two different facets, or two successive stages, of the same reality, a reality convincingly human just because it is too complex.
In Gary William Flake, The Computational Beauty of Nature (2000), 427.
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While the biological properties of deoxypentose nucleic acid suggest a molecular structure containing great complexity, X-ray diffraction studies described here … show the basic molecular configuration has great simplicity. [Co-author with A.R. Stokes, H.R. Wilson. Thanks include to “… our colleagues R.E. Franklin, R.G. Gosling … for discussion.”]
From 'Molecular Structure of Deoxypentose Nucleic Acids', Nature (25 Apr 1953), 171, No. 4356, 738. (Note: in W.F. Bynum and Roy Porter (eds.), Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (2005), 226, this quote is listed under Rosalind Elsie Franklin and cited, incorrectly, as from “Rosalind Franklin and R. G. Gosling, 'Molecular Structures of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid', Nature, 1953, 171, 741.” However, the Franklin and Gosling article on p.741 is the second of two pages titled 'Molecular Configuration in Sodium Thymonucleate'.)
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Why is geometry often described as “cold” and “dry?” One reason lies in its inability to describe the shape of a cloud, a mountain, a coastline, or a tree. Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line… Nature exhibits not simply a higher degree but an altogether different level of complexity.
From The Fractal Geometry of Nature (1977, 1983), Introduction, xiii.
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[The octopus has] an amazing skin, because there are up to 20 million of these chromatophore pigment cells and to control 20 million of anything is going to take a lot of processing power. ... These animals have extraordinarily large, complicated brains to make all this work. ... And what does this mean about the universe and other intelligent life? The building blocks are potentially there and complexity will arise. Evolution is the force that's pushing that. I would expect, personally, a lot of diversity and a lot of complicated structures. It may not look like us, but my personal view is that there is intelligent life out there.
From transcript of PBS TV program Nova episode 'Origins: Where are the Aliens?' (2004).
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[The] complex pattern of the misallocation of credit for scientific work must quite evidently be described as “the Matthew effect,” for, as will be remembered, the Gospel According to St. Matthew puts it this way: For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. Put in less stately language, the Matthew effect consists of the accruing of greater increments of recognition for particular scientific contributions to scientists of considerable repute and the withholding of such recognition from scientists who have not yet made their mark.
'The Matthew Effect in Science', Science (1968), 159, 58.
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[W]hen Galileo discovered he could use the tools of mathematics and mechanics to understand the motion of celestial bodies, he felt, in the words of one imminent researcher, that he had learned the language in which God recreated the universe. Today we are learning the language in which God created life. We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, the wonder of God's most devine and sacred gift.
From White House Announcement of the Completion of the First Survey of the Entire Human Genome Project, broadcast on the day of the publication of the first draft of the human genome. Quoted in transcript on the National Archives, Clinton White House web site, 'Text of Remarks on the Completion of the First Survey of the Entire Human Genome Project' (26 Jun 2000).
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… our “Physick” and “Anatomy” have embraced such infinite varieties of being, have laid open such new worlds in time and space, have grappled, not unsuccessfully, with such complex problems, that the eyes of Vesalius and of Harvey might be dazzled by the sight of the tree that has grown out of their grain of mustard seed.
A Lay Sermon, delivered at St. Martin's Hall (7 Jan 1866), 'On the Advisableness of Improving Natural Knowledge', published in The Fortnightly Review (1866), Vol. 3, 629.
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“If there are two theories, one simpler man the other, the simpler one is to be preferred.” At first sight this does not seem quite so bad, but a little thought shows that our tendency to prefer the simpler possibility is psychological rather than scientific. It is less trouble to think that way. Experience invariably shows that the more correct a theory becomes, the more complex does it seem. … So this … interpretation of [Ockham’s Razor] is … worthless.
With co-author Nalin Chandra Wickramasinghe, Evolution from Space (1981), 135.
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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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- 90 -
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- 40 -
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