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Who said: “Every body perseveres in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by forces impressed.”
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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index C > Category: Concept

Concept Quotes (221 quotes)

... one of the main functions of an analogy or model is to suggest extensions of the theory by considering extensions of the analogy, since more is known about the analogy than is known about the subject matter of the theory itself … A collection of observable concepts in a purely formal hypothesis suggesting no analogy with anything would consequently not suggest either any directions for its own development.
'Operational Definition and Analogy in Physical Theories', British Journal for the Philosophy of Science (Feb 1952), 2, No. 8, 291.
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... we must first base such words as “between” upon clear concepts, a thing which is quite feasible but which I have not seen done.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 83.
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...the source of all great mathematics is the special case, the concrete example. It is frequent in mathematics that every instance of a concept of seemingly generality is, in essence, the same as a small and concrete special case.
I Want to be a Mathematician: an Automathography in Three Parts (1985), 324.
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L'homme moyen.
The average man.
The emergence of the concept.
A Treatise on Man and the Development of his Faculties (1842). Reprinted with an introduction by Solomon Diamond (1969), 96.
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A key concept is that security is an enabler, not a disabler. … Security … enables you to keep your job, security enables you to move into new markets, security enables you to have confidence in what you’re doing.
As quoted in magazine article, an interview by John McCormick, 'Computer Security as a Business Enabler', Baseline (7 Jul 2007).
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A modern branch of mathematics, having achieved the art of dealing with the infinitely small, can now yield solutions in other more complex problems of motion, which used to appear insoluble. This modern branch of mathematics, unknown to the ancients, when dealing with problems of motion, admits the conception of the infinitely small, and so conforms to the chief condition of motion (absolute continuity) and thereby corrects the inevitable error which the human mind cannot avoid when dealing with separate elements of motion instead of examining continuous motion. In seeking the laws of historical movement just the same thing happens. The movement of humanity, arising as it does from innumerable human wills, is continuous. To understand the laws of this continuous movement is the aim of history. … Only by taking an infinitesimally small unit for observation (the differential of history, that is, the individual tendencies of man) and attaining to the art of integrating them (that is, finding the sum of these infinitesimals) can we hope to arrive at the laws of history.
War and Peace (1869), Book 11, Chap. 1.
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A theory is the more impressive the greater the simplicity of its premises is, the more different kinds of things it relates, and the more extended is its area of applicability. Therefore the deep impression which classical thermodynamics made upon me. It is the only physical theory of universal content concerning which I am convinced that within the framework of the applicability of its basic concepts, it will never be overthrown.
Autobiographical Notes (1946), 33. Quoted in Gerald Holton and Yehuda Elkana, Albert Einstein: Historical and Cultural Perspectives (1997), 227.
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All human knowledge begins with intuitions, proceeds from thence to concepts, and ends with ideas.
Critique of Pure Reason (1781, 1787), B 730. As translated by Norman Kemp Smith in Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1929), 569. Also translated in an epigraph as “All human knowledge thus begins with intuitions, proceeds thence to concepts, and ends with ideas,” in David Hilbert and E.J. Townsend (trans.), 'Introduction', Foundations of Geometry (1902), 1, citing Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, Elementarlehre, Part 2, Sec. 2.
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Although few expressions are more commonly used in writing about science than “science revolution,” there is a continuing debate as to the propriety of applying the concept and term “revolution” to scientific change. There is, furthermore, a wide difference of opinion as to what may constitute a revolution. And although almost all historians would agree that a genuine alteration of an exceptionally radical nature (the Scientific Revolution) occurred in the sciences at some time between the late fifteenth (or early sixteenth) century and the end of the seventeenth century, the question of exactly when this revolution occurred arouses as much scholarly disagreement as the cognate question of precisely what it was.
The Newtonian Revolution (1980), 3.
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As an empiricist I continue to think of the conceptual scheme of science as a tool, ultimately, for predicting future experience in the light of past experience. Physical objects are conceptually imported into the situation as convenient intermediaries—not by definition in terms of experience, but simply as irreducible posits comparable, epistemologically, to the gods of Homer. For my part I do, qua lay physicist, believe in physical objects and not in Homer's gods; and I consider it a scientific error to believe otherwise. But in point of epistemological footing the physical objects and the gods differ only in degree and not in kind. Both sorts of entities enter our conception only as cultural posits. The myth of physical objects is epistemologically superior to most in that it has proved more efficacious than other myths as a device for working a manageable structure into the flux of experience.
From A Logical Point of View (1953), 44. [Note: “qua” means “in the character or role of,” thus “qua lay physicist” means “in the role of lay physicist,” or perhaps even (?) “putting on my lay physicist hat.” —Webmaster]
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Astronomy was thus the cradle of the natural sciences and the starting point of geometrical theories. The stars themselves gave rise to the concept of a ‘point’; triangles, quadrangles and other geometrical figures appeared in the constellations; the circle was realized by the disc of the sun and the moon. Thus in an essentially intuitive fashion the elements of geometrical thinking came into existence.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 72.
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At every major step physics has required, and frequently stimulated, the introduction of new mathematical tools and concepts. Our present understanding of the laws of physics, with their extreme precision and universality, is only possible in mathematical terms.
In Book Review 'Pulling the Strings,' of Lawrence Krauss's Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Lure of Extra Dimensions, from Plato to String Theory and Beyond in Nature (22 Dec 2005), 438, 1081.
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At first sight nothing seems more obvious than that everything has a beginning and an end, and that everything can be subdivided into smaller parts. Nevertheless, for entirely speculative reasons the philosophers of Antiquity, especially the Stoics, concluded this concept to be quite unnecessary. The prodigious development of physics has now reached the same conclusion as those philosophers, Empedocles and Democritus in particular, who lived around 500 B.C. and for whom even ancient man had a lively admiration.
'Development of the Theory of Electrolytic Dissociation', Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1903. In Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1901-1921 (1966), 45.
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Behind and permeating all our scientific activity, whether in critical analysis or in discovery, there is an elementary and overwhelming faith in the possibility of grasping the real world with out concepts, and, above all, faith in the truth over which we have no control but in the service of which our rationality stands or falls. Faith and intrinsic rationality are interlocked with one another
Christian Theology of Scientific Culture (1981), 63. In Vinoth Ramachandra, Subverting Global Myths: Theology and the Public Issues Shaping our World (2008), 187.
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Characteristically skeptical of the idea that living things would faithfully follow mathematical formulas, [Robert Harper] seized upon factors in corn which seemed to blend in the hybrid—rather than be represented by plus or minus signs, and put several seasons into throwing doubt upon the concept of immutable hypothetical units of inheritance concocted to account for selected results.
In 'Robert Almer Harper', National Academy Biographical Memoirs (1948), 25, 233-234.
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Classes and concepts may, however, also be conceived as real objects, namely classes as “pluralities of things” or as structures consisting of a plurality of things and concepts as the properties and relations of things existing independently of our definitions and constructions. It seems to me that the assumption of such objects is quite as legitimate as the assumption of physical bodies and there is quite as much reason to believe in their existence. They are in the same sense necessary to obtain a satisfactory system of mathematics as physical bodies are necessary for a satisfactory theory of our sense perceptions…
In 'Russell's Mathematical Logic', in P.A. Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell (1944), Vol. 1, 137.
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Common sense … may be thought of as a series of concepts and conceptual schemes which have proved highly satisfactory for the practical uses of mankind. Some of those concepts and conceptual schemes were carried over into science with only a little pruning and whittling and for a long time proved useful. As the recent revolutions in physics indicate, however, many errors can be made by failure to examine carefully just how common sense ideas should be defined in terms of what the experimenter plans to do.
In Science and Common Sense (1951), 32-33.
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Concepts that have proven useful in ordering thi ngs easily achieve such authority over us that we forget their earthly origins and accept them as unalterable givens.
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Concepts without percepts are empty. Percepts without concepts are blind.
A commonly seen alternate translation of “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.” As quoted in Critique of Pure Reason (1781), trans. Norman Kemp Smith (1929, 2016), 93.
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Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man, nor for us to reap from it the esthetic harvest it is capable, under science, of contributing to culture. That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics. That land yields a cultural harvest is a fact long known, but latterly often forgotten.
A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There (1949), viii-ix.
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Dalton transformed the atomic concept from a philosophical speculation into a scientific theory—framed to explain quantitative observations, suggesting new tests and experiments, and capable of being given quantitative form through the establishment of relative masses of atomic particles.
Development of Concepts of Physics. In Clifford A. Pickover, Archimedes to Hawking: Laws of Science and the Great Minds Behind Them (2008), 175.
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Darwin grasped the philosophical bleakness with his characteristic courage. He argued that hope and morality cannot, and should not, be passively read in the construction of nature. Aesthetic and moral truths, as human concepts, must be shaped in human terms, not ‘discovered’ in nature. We must formulate these answers for ourselves and then approach nature as a partner who can answer other kinds of questions for us–questions about the factual state of the universe, not about the meaning of human life. If we grant nature the independence of her own domain–her answers unframed in human terms–then we can grasp her exquisite beauty in a free and humble way. For then we become liberated to approach nature without the burden of an inappropriate and impossible quest for moral messages to assuage our hopes and fears. We can pay our proper respect to nature’s independence and read her own ways as beauty or inspiration in our different terms.
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Einstein uses his concept of God more often than a Catholic priest. Once I asked him:
'Tomorrow is Sunday. Do you want me to come to you, so we can work?'
'Why not?'
'Because I thought perhaps you would like to rest on Sunday.'
Einstein settled the question by saying with a loud laugh: 'God does not rest on Sunday either.'
Quest: The Evolution of a Scientist (1941), 247.
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Eradication of microbial disease is a will-o’-the-wisp; pursuing it leads into a morass of hazy biological concepts and half truths.
Man Adapting (1965), 381.
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Every rule has its limits, and every concept its ambiguities. Most of all is this true in the science of life, where nothing quite corresponds to our ideas; similar ends are reached by varied means, and no causes are simple.
In Internal Factors in Evolution (1965), 13.
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Everything that the greatest minds of all times have accomplished toward the comprehension of forms by means of concepts is gathered into one great science, mathematics.
In 'Pestalozzi's Idee eines A B C der Anschauung', Werke[Kehrbach] (1890), Bd.l, 163. As quoted, cited and translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 5.
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First of all, we ought to observe, that mathematical propositions, properly so called, are always judgments a priori, and not empirical, because they carry along with them necessity, which can never be deduced from experience. If people should object to this, I am quite willing to confine my statements to pure mathematics, the very concept of which implies that it does not contain empirical, but only pure knowledge a priori.
In Critique of Pure Reason (1900), 720.
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For a physicist mathematics is not just a tool by means of which phenomena can be calculated, it is the main source of concepts and principles by means of which new theories can be created.
In 'Mathematics in the Physical Sciences', Scientific American (Sep 1964), 211, No. 3, 129.
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For Linnaeus, Homo sapiens was both special and not special ... Special and not special have come to mean nonbiological and biological, or nurture and nature. These later polarizations are nonsensical. Humans are animals and everything we do lies within our biological potential ... the statement that humans are animals does not imply that our specific patterns of behavior and social arrangements are in any way directly determined by our genes. Potentiality and determination are different concepts.
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For strictly scientific or technological purposes all this is irrelevant. On a pragmatic view, as on a religious view, theory and concepts are held in faith. On the pragmatic view the only thing that matters is that the theory is efficacious, that it “works” and that the necessary preliminaries and side issues do not cost too much in time and effort. Beyond that, theory and concepts go to constitute a language in which the scientistic matters at issue can be formulated and discussed.
In Nobel Lecture (8 Dec 1994), 'Slow Neutron Spectroscopy and the Grand Atlas of the Physical World', Nobel Lectures: Physics 1991-1995 (1997), 111.
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For the harmony of the world is made manifest in Form and Number, and the heart and soul and all the poetry of Natural Philosophy are embodied in the concept of mathematical beauty.
On Growth and Form (1917), Epilogue, 778-9.
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For the notion of matter I do not think [of] its permanence, but only its presence in space as filling it.
In Immanuel Kant and James Hutchison Sterling (ed.), Text-Book to Kant: The Critique of Pure Reason (1881), 128.
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Former arbiters of taste must have felt (as so many apostles of ‘traditional values’ and other highminded tags for restriction and conformity do today) that maintaining the social order required a concept of unalloyed heroism. Human beings so designated as role models had to embody all virtues of the paragon–which meant, of course, that they could not be described in their truly human and ineluctably faulted form.
…...
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Fractals are patterns which occur on many levels. This concept can be applied to any musical parameter. I make melodic fractals, where the pitches of a theme I dream up are used to determine a melodic shape on several levels, in space and time. I make rhythmic fractals, where a set of durations associated with a motive get stretched and compressed and maybe layered on top of each other. I make loudness fractals, where the characteristic loudness of a sound, its envelope shape, is found on several time scales. I even make fractals with the form of a piece, its instrumentation, density, range, and so on. Here I’ve separated the parameters of music, but in a real piece, all of these things are combined, so you might call it a fractal of fractals.
Interview (1999) on The Discovery Channel. As quoted by Benoit B. Manelbrot and Richard Hudson in The (Mis)Behaviour of Markets: A Fractal View of Risk, Ruin and Reward (2010), 133.
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From time immemorial, the infinite has stirred men's emotions more than any other question. Hardly any other idea has stimulated the mind so fruitfully. Yet, no other concept needs clarification more than it does.
In address (4 Jun 1925), at a congress of the Westphalian Mathematical Society in Munster, in honor of Karl Weierstrass. First published in Mathematische Annalen (1926), 95, 161-190. Translated by Erna Putnam and Gerald J. Massey as 'On the Infinite', collected in Paul Benacerraf (ed.) Philosophy of Mathematics: Selected Readings (1983), 185. Compare another translation elsewhere on this page, beginning, “The Infinite!…”.
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Half a century ago Oswald (1910) distinguished classicists and romanticists among the scientific investigators: the former being inclined to design schemes and to use consistently the deductions from working hypotheses; the latter being more fit for intuitive discoveries of functional relations between phenomena and therefore more able to open up new fields of study. Examples of both character types are Werner and Hutton. Werner was a real classicist. At the end of the eighteenth century he postulated the theory of “neptunism,” according to which all rocks including granites, were deposited in primeval seas. It was an artificial scheme, but, as a classification system, it worked quite satisfactorily at the time. Hutton, his contemporary and opponent, was more a romanticist. His concept of “plutonism” supposed continually recurrent circuits of matter, which like gigantic paddle wheels raise material from various depths of the earth and carry it off again. This is a very flexible system which opens the mind to accept the possible occurrence in the course of time of a great variety of interrelated plutonic and tectonic processes.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 456-7.
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Historically [chemistry] arose from a constellation of interests: the empirically based technologies of early metallurgists, brewers, dyers, tanners, calciners and pharmacists; the speculative Greek philosphers' concern whether brute matter was invariant or transformable; the alchemists' real or symbolic attempts to achieve the transmutation of base metals into gold; and the iatrochemists' interst in the chemistry and pathology of animal and human functions. Partly because of the sheer complexity of chemical phenomena, the absence of criteria and standards of purity, and uncertainty over the definition of elements ... but above all because of the lack of a concept of the gaseous state of matter, chemistry remained a rambling, puzzling and chaotic area of natural philosophy until the middle of the eighteenth century.
The Chemical Tree: A History of Chemistry (2000), xxii.
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However, all scientific statements and laws have one characteristic in common: they are “true or false” (adequate or inadequate). Roughly speaking, our reaction to them is “yes” or “no.” The scientific way of thinking has a further characteristic. The concepts which it uses to build up its coherent systems are not expressing emotions. For the scientist, there is only “being,” but no wishing, no valuing, no good, no evil; no goal. As long as we remain within the realm of science proper, we can never meet with a sentence of the type: “Thou shalt not lie.” There is something like a Puritan's restraint in the scientist who seeks truth: he keeps away from everything voluntaristic or emotional.
Essays in Physics (1950), 68.
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I am an organic chemist, albeit one who adheres to the definition of organic chemistry given by the great Swedish chemist Berzelius, namely, the chemistry of substances found in living matter, and my science is one of the more abstruse insofar as it rests on concepts and employs a jargon neither of which is a part of everyday experience. Nevertheless, organic chemistry deals with matters of truly vital Importance and in some of its aspects with which I myself have been particularly concerned it may prove to hold the keys to Life itself.
In 'Synthesis in the Study of Nucleotides', Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1957. In Nobel Lectures: Chemistry 1942-1962 (1964), 522.
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I believe … that we can still have a genre of scientific books suitable for and accessible alike to professionals and interested laypeople. The concepts of science, in all their richness and ambiguity, can be presented without any compromise, without any simplification counting as distortion, in language accessible to all intelligent people … I hope that this book can be read with profit both in seminars for graduate students and–if the movie stinks and you forgot your sleeping pills–on the businessman’s special to Tokyo.
In Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (1990), Preface, 16.
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I cannot accept any concept of God based on the fear of life or the fear of death, or blind faith.
As recollected from a visit some months earlier, and quoted in William Miller, 'Old Man’s Advice to Youth: “Never Lose a Holy Curiosity”', Life (2 May 1955), 62.
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I don’t understand why people insist on pitting concepts of evolution and creation against each other. Why can’t they see that spiritualism and science are one? That bodies evolve and souls evolve and the universe is a fluid package that marries them both in a wonderful package called a human being.
The Art of Racing in the Rain. Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 43
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I have a boundless admiration for the solitary genius which enabled [Hermann Oberth] to bring into focus all of the essential elements of a gigantic concept, together with the human greatness which allowed him, in shy reserve, to bear with equanimity the “crucify hims” as well as the “hosannas” of public opinion. I myself owe him a debt of gratitude not only for being the guiding light of my life, but also for my first contact with the theoretical and practical aspects of rocket technology and space travel.
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I have never had reason, up to now, to give up the concept which I have always stressed, that nerve cells, instead of working individually, act together, so that we must think that several groups of elements exercise a cumulative effect on the peripheral organs through whole bundles of fibres. It is understood that this concept implies another regarding the opposite action of sensory functions. However opposed it may seem to the popular tendency to individualize the elements, I cannot abandon the idea of a unitary action of the nervous system, without bothering if, by that, I approach old conceptions.
'The Neuron Doctrine-Theory and Facts', Nobel Lecture 11 Dec 1906. In Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1901-1921 (1967), 216.
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I have tried to read philosophers of all ages and have found many illuminating ideas but no steady progress toward deeper knowledge and understanding. Science, however, gives me the feeling of steady progress: I am convinced that theoretical physics is actual philosophy. It has revolutionized fundamental concepts, e.g., about space and time (relativity), about causality (quantum theory), and about substance and matter (atomistics), and it has taught us new methods of thinking (complementarity) which are applicable far beyond physics.
Max Born
My Life & My Views (1968), 48.
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I learnt to distrust all physical concepts as the basis for a theory. Instead one should put one's trust in a mathematical scheme, even if the scheme does not appear at first sight to be connected with physics. One should concentrate on getting interesting mathematics.
From a 1977 lecture. Quoted in Pesi Rustom Masani, Norbert Wiener, 1894-1964 (1990), 6.
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I once knew an otherwise excellent teacher who compelled his students to perform all their demonstrations with incorrect figures, on the theory that it was the logical connection of the concepts, not the figure, that was essential.
In Ernst Mach and Thomas Joseph McCormack, Space and Geometry (1906), 93.
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I should like to call the number of atom groups, with which an elementary atom coordinates … to form a complex radical, the coordination number of the atom in question … We must differentiate between valence number and coordination number. The valence number indicates the maximum number of monovalent atoms which can be bound directly to the atom in question without the participation of other elementary atoms … Perhaps this concept [of coordination number] is destined to serve as a basis for the theory of the constitution of inorganic compounds, just as valence theory formed the basis for the constitutional theory of carbon compounds.
In 'Beitrag zur Konstitution anorganischer Verbindungen', Zeitschrift fur anorganische Chemie, (1893), 3, 267-330. Translated in George G. Kauffman (ed.), Classics in Coordination Chemistry: Part I: The Selected Papers of Alfred Werner (1968), 84-87.
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I suspect that the changes that have taken place during the last century in the average man's fundamental beliefs, in his philosophy, in his concept of religion. in his whole world outlook, are greater than the changes that occurred during the preceding four thousand years all put together. ... because of science and its applications to human life, for these have bloomed in my time as no one in history had had ever dreamed could be possible.
In The Autobiography of Robert A. Millikan (1951, 1980), xii.
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Iconography becomes even more revealing when processes or concepts, rather than objects, must be depicted–for the constraint of a definite ‘thing’ cedes directly to the imagination. How can we draw ‘evolution’ or ‘social organization,’ not to mention the more mundane ‘digestion’ or ‘self-interest,’ without portraying more of a mental structure than a physical reality? If we wish to trace the history of ideas, iconography becomes a candid camera trained upon the scholar’s mind.
…...
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If a man has a tent made of linen of which the apertures have all been stopped up, and be it twelve bracchia across (over twenty-five feet) and twelve in depth, he will be able to throw himself down from any height without sustaining injury. [His concept of the parachute.]
In Isaac Asimov and Jason A. Shulman, Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 3-4, which notes twelve bracchia is over 25 feet. There are other translations with different units. Da Vinci’s illustration in his notebook showed a pyramid-shaped parachute below which hung a man suspended by a few short cords.
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If a nonnegative quantity was so small that it is smaller than any given one, then it certainly could not be anything but zero. To those who ask what the infinitely small quantity in mathematics is, we answer that it is actually zero. Hence there are not so many mysteries hidden in this concept as they are usually believed to be. These supposed mysteries have rendered the calculus of the infinitely small quite suspect to many people. Those doubts that remain we shall thoroughly remove in the following pages, where we shall explain this calculus.
…...
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If it is true as Whewell says, that the essence of the triumphs of Science and its progress consists in that it enables us to consider evident and necessary, views which our ancestors held to be unintelligible and were unable to comprehend, then the extension of the number concept to include the irrational, and we will at once add, the imaginary, is the greatest forward step which pure mathematics has ever taken.
In Theorie der Complexen Zahlensysteme (1867), 60. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 281. From the original German, “Wenn es wahr ist, dass, wie Whewell meint, das Wesen der Triumphe der Wissenschaft und ihres Fortschrittes darin besteht, dass wir veranlasst werden, Ansichten, welche unsere Vorfahren für unbegreiflich hielten und unfähig waren zu begreifen, für evident und nothwendig zu halten, so war die Erweiterung des Zahlenbegriffes auf das Irrationale, und wollen wir sogleich hinzufügen, das Imaginäre, der grösste Fortschritt, den die reine Mathematik jemals gemacht hat.”
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If time is treated in modern physics as a dimension on a par with the dimensions of space, why should we a priori exclude the possibility that we are pulled as well as pushed along its axis? The future has, after all, as much or as little reality as the past, and there is nothing logically inconceivable in introducing, as a working hypothesis, an element of finality, supplementary to the element of causality, into our equations. It betrays a great lack of imagination to believe that the concept of “purpose” must necessarily be associated with some anthropomorphic deity.
In 'Epilogue', The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959, 1968), 537.
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If we consider that part of the theory of relativity which may nowadays in a sense be regarded as bone fide scientific knowledge, we note two aspects which have a major bearing on this theory. The whole development of the theory turns on the question of whether there are physically preferred states of motion in Nature (physical relativity problem). Also, concepts and distinctions are only admissible to the extent that observable facts can be assigned to them without ambiguity (stipulation that concepts and distinctions should have meaning). This postulate, pertaining to epistemology, proves to be of fundamental importance.
'Fundamental ideas and problems of the theory of relativity', Lecture delivered to the Nordic Assembly of Naturalists at Gothenburg, 11 Jul 1923. In Nobel Physics 1901-1921 (1998), 482.
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If we survey the mathematical works of Sylvester, we recognize indeed a considerable abundance, but in contradistinction to Cayley—not a versatility toward separate fields, but, with few exceptions—a confinement to arithmetic-algebraic branches. …
The concept of Function of a continuous variable, the fundamental concept of modern mathematics, plays no role, is indeed scarcely mentioned in the entire work of Sylvester—Sylvester was combinatorist [combinatoriker].
In Mathematische Annalen (1898), Bd.50, 134-135. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 173.
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If we turn to the problems to which the calculus owes its origin, we find that not merely, not even primarily, geometry, but every other branch of mathematical physics—astronomy, mechanics, hydrodynamics, elasticity, gravitation, and later electricity and magnetism—in its fundamental concepts and basal laws contributed to its development and that the new science became the direct product of these influences.
Opening of Presidential Address (27 Apr 1907) to the American Mathematical Society, 'The Calculus in Colleges and Technical Schools', published in Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (Jun 1907), 13, 449.
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In 1900 however, he [Planck] worked out the revolutionary quantum theory, a towering achievement which extended and improved the basic concepts of physics. It was so revolutionary, in fact, that almost no physicist, including Planck himself could bring himself to accept it. (Planck later said that the only way a revolutionary theory could be accepted was to wait until all the old scientists had died.)
(1976). In Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 324.
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In 1975, ... [speaking with Shiing Shen Chern], I told him I had finally learned ... the beauty of fiber-bundle theory and the profound Chern-Weil theorem. I said I found it amazing that gauge fields are exactly connections on fiber bundles, which the mathematicians developed without reference to the physical world. I added, “this is both thrilling and puzzling, since you mathematicians dreamed up these concepts out of nowhere.” He immediately protested: “No, no. These concepts were not dreamed up. They were natural and real.”
In 'Einstein's Impact on Theoretical Physics', collected in Jong-Ping Hsu, Leonard Hsu (eds.), JingShin Theoretical Physics Symposium in Honor of Professor Ta-You Wu (1998), 70. Reprinted from Physics Today (Jun 1980), 49. The article was adapted from a talk given at the Second Marcel Grossman meeting, held in Trieste, Italy (Jul 1979), in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Albert Einstein.
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In general, we mean by any concept nothing more than a set of operations; the concept is synonymous with the corresponding set of operations.
The Logic of Modern Physics (1960), 5.
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In man’s brain the impressions from outside are not merely registered; they produce concepts and ideas. They are the imprint of the external world upon the human brain. Therefore, it is not surprising that, after a long period of searching and erring, some of the concepts and ideas in human thinking should have come gradually closer to the fundamental laws of the world, that some of our thinking should reveal the true structure of atoms and the true movements of the stars. Nature, in the form of man, begins to recognize itself.
In Knowledge and Wonder (1962).
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In one of my lectures many years ago I used the phrase “following the trail of light”. The word “light” was not meant in its literal sense, but in the sense of following an intellectual concept or idea to where it might lead. My interest in living things is probably a fundamental motivation for the scientific work in the laboratory, and we created here in Berkeley one of the first and foremost interdisciplinary laboratories in the world.
In autobiography, Following the Trail of Light: A Scientific Odyssey (1992), 134.
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In order to comprehend and fully control arithmetical concepts and methods of proof, a high degree of abstraction is necessary, and this condition has at times been charged against arithmetic as a fault. I am of the opinion that all other fields of knowledge require at least an equally high degree of abstraction as mathematics,—provided, that in these fields the foundations are also everywhere examined with the rigour and completeness which is actually necessary.
In 'Die Theorie der algebraischen Zahlkorper', Vorwort, Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung, Bd. 4.
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In physics we deal with states of affairs much simpler than those of psychology and yet we again and again learn that our task is not to investigate the essence of things—we do not at all know what this would mean&mash;but to develop those concepts that allow us to speak with each other about the events of nature in a fruitful manner.
Letter to H.P.E. Hansen (20 Jul 1935), Niels Bohr Archive. In Jan Faye, Henry J. Folse, Niels Bohr and Contemporary Philosophy (1994), 83.
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In the discussion of the. energies involved in the deformation of nuclei, the concept of surface tension of nuclear matter has been used and its value had been estimated from simple considerations regarding nuclear forces. It must be remembered, however, that the surface tension of a charged droplet is diminished by its charge, and a rough estimate shows that the surface tension of nuclei, decreasing with increasing nuclear charge, may become zero for atomic numbers of the order of 100. It seems therefore possible that the uranium nucleus has only small stability of form, and may, after neutron capture, divide itself into two nuclei of roughly equal size (the precise ratio of sizes depending on liner structural features and perhaps partly on chance). These two nuclei will repel each other and should gain a total kinetic energy of c. 200 Mev., as calculated from nuclear radius and charge. This amount of energy may actually be expected to be available from the difference in packing fraction between uranium and the elements in the middle of the periodic system. The whole 'fission' process can thus be described in an essentially classical way, without having to consider quantum-mechanical 'tunnel effects', which would actually be extremely small, on account of the large masses involved.
[Co-author with Otto Robert Frisch]
Lise Meitner and O. R. Frisch, 'Disintegration of Uranium by Neutrons: a New Type of Nuclear Reaction', Nature (1939), 143, 239.
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In the history of scientific development the personal aspects of the process are usually omitted or played down to emphasize that the thing discovered is independent of the discoverer and that the result can be checked. But, as Einstein has pointed out, scientific concepts are 'created in the minds of men,' and in some way the nonprofessional aspects of life and mind are inevitably related to the professional.
American Institute of Physics, Center for History of Physics Newsletter (Fall 2004).
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In the world of human thought generally, and in physical science particularly, the most important and fruitful concepts are those to which it is impossible to attach a well-defined meaning.
In M. Dresen, H. A. Kramers: Between Tradition and Revolution (1987), 539. In Magdolna Hargittai, In Our Own Image (2000), 3.
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Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today–but the core of science fiction, its essence, the concept around which it revolves, has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved a
…...
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Intelligence is an extremely subtle concept. It’s a kind of understanding that flourishes if it’s combined with a good memory, but exists anyway even in the absence of good memory. It’s the ability to draw consequences from causes, to make correct inferences, to foresee what might be the result, to work out logical problems, to be reasonable, rational, to have the ability to understand the solution from perhaps insufficient information. You know when a person is intelligent, but you can be easily fooled if you are not yourself intelligent.
In Irv Broughton (ed.), The Writer's Mind: Interviews with American Authors (1990), Vol. 2, 57.
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It is an old saying, abundantly justified, that where sciences meet there growth occurs. It is true moreover to say that in scientific borderlands not only are facts gathered that [are] often new in kind, but it is in these regions that wholly new concepts arise. It is my own faith that just as the older biology from its faithful studies of external forms provided a new concept in the doctrine of evolution, so the new biology is yet fated to furnish entirely new fundamental concepts of science, at which physics and chemistry when concerned with the non-living alone could never arrive.
'Biological Thought and Chemical Thought: A Plea for Unification', Linacre Lecture, Cambridge (6 May 1938), published in Lancet (1938),2, 1204.
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It is astonishing how much the word infinitely is misused: everything is infinitely more beautiful, infinitely better, etc. The concept must have something pleasing about it, or its misuse could not have become so general.
Aphorism 133 in Notebook J (1789-1793), as translated by R. J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 155.
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It is clear that there is some difference between ends: some ends are energeia [energy], while others are products which are additional to the energeia.
[The first description of the concept of energy.]
Aristotle
In Cutler J. Cleveland and Christopher G. Morris, Dictionary of Energy (2009), 572, with this added: Energeia has traditionally been translated as “activity” or “actuality” some modern texts render it more literally as “in work&rqduo; or “being at work”.
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It is easy to create an interstellar radio message which can be recognized as emanating unambiguously from intelligent beings. A modulated signal (‘beep,’ ‘beep-beep,’…) comprising the numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, for example, consists exclusively of the first 12 prime numbers…. A signal of this kind, based on a simple mathematical concept, could only have a biological origin. … But by far the most promising method is to send pictures.
From 'The Quest for Extraterrestrial Intelligence', in the magazine Smithsonian (May 1978), 43-44. Reprinted in Cosmic Search (Mar 1979), 1, No. 2, 5.
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It is impossible to disassociate language from science or science from language, because every natural science always involves three things: the sequence of phenomena on which the science is based; the abstract concepts which call these phenomena to mind; and the words in which the concepts are expressed. To call forth a concept a word is needed; to portray a phenomenon a concept is needed. All three mirror one and the same reality.
In Traite Elementaire de Chimie (1789).
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It is interesting to note how many fundamental terms which the social sciences are trying to adopt from physics have as a matter of historical fact originated in the social field. Take, for instance, the notion of cause. The Greek aitia or the Latin causa was originally a purely legal term. It was taken over into physics, developed there, and in the 18th century brought back as a foreign-born kind for the adoration of the social sciences. The same is true of the concept of law of nature. Originally a strict anthropomorphic conception, it was gradually depersonalized or dehumanized in the natural sciences and then taken over by the social sciences in an effort to eliminate final causes or purposes from the study of human affairs. It is therefore not anomalous to find similar transformations in the history of such fundamental concepts of statistics as average and probability. The concept of average was developed in the Rhodian laws as to the distribution of losses in maritime risks. After astronomers began to use it in correcting their observations, it spread to other physical sciences; and the prestige which it thus acquired has given it vogue in the social field. The term probability, as its etymology indicates, originates in practical and legal considerations of probing and proving.
The Statistical View of Nature (1936), 327-8.
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It is not Cayley’s way to analyze concepts into their ultimate elements. … But he is master of the empirical utilization of the material: in the way he combines it to form a single abstract concept which he generalizes and then subjects to computative tests, in the way the newly acquired data are made to yield at a single stroke the general comprehensive idea to the subsequent numerical verification of which years of labor are devoted. Cayley is thus the natural philosopher among mathematicians.
In Mathematische Annalen, Bd. 46 (1895), 479. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 146.
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It is not only a decided preference for synthesis and a complete denial of general methods which characterizes the ancient mathematics as against our newer Science [modern mathematics]: besides this extemal formal difference there is another real, more deeply seated, contrast, which arises from the different attitudes which the two assumed relative to the use of the concept of variability. For while the ancients, on account of considerations which had been transmitted to them from the Philosophie school of the Eleatics, never employed the concept of motion, the spatial expression for variability, in their rigorous system, and made incidental use of it only in the treatment of phonoromically generated curves, modern geometry dates from the instant that Descartes left the purely algebraic treatment of equations and proceeded to investigate the variations which an algebraic expression undergoes when one of its variables assumes a continuous succession of values.
In 'Untersuchungen über die unendlich oft oszillierenden und unstetigen Functionen', Ostwald’s Klassiker der exacten Wissenschaften (1905), No. 153, 44-45. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 115. From the original German, “Nicht allein entschiedene Vorliebe für die Synthese und gänzliche Verleugnung allgemeiner Methoden charakterisiert die antike Mathematik gegenüber unserer neueren Wissenschaft; es gibt neben diesem mehr äußeren, formalen, noch einen tiefliegenden realen Gegensatz, welcher aus der verschiedenen Stellung entspringt, in welche sich beide zu der wissenschaftlichen Verwendung des Begriffes der Veränderlichkeit gesetzt haben. Denn während die Alten den Begriff der Bewegung, des räumlichen Ausdruckes der Veränderlichkeit, aus Bedenken, die aus der philosophischen Schule der Eleaten auf sie übergegangen waren, in ihrem strengen Systeme niemals und auch in der Behandlung phoronomisch erzeugter Kurven nur vorübergehend verwenden, so datiert die neuere Mathematik von dem Augenblicke, als Descartes von der rein algebraischen Behandlung der Gleichungen dazu fortschritt, die Größenveränderungen zu untersuchen, welche ein algebraischer Ausdruck erleidet, indem eine in ihm allgemein bezeichnete Größe eine stetige Folge von Werten durchläuft.”
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It is now necessary to indicate more definitely the reason why mathematics not only carries conviction in itself, but also transmits conviction to the objects to which it is applied. The reason is found, first of all, in the perfect precision with which the elementary mathematical concepts are determined; in this respect each science must look to its own salvation .... But this is not all. As soon as human thought attempts long chains of conclusions, or difficult matters generally, there arises not only the danger of error but also the suspicion of error, because since all details cannot be surveyed with clearness at the same instant one must in the end be satisfied with a belief that nothing has been overlooked from the beginning. Every one knows how much this is the case even in arithmetic, the most elementary use of mathematics. No one would imagine that the higher parts of mathematics fare better in this respect; on the contrary, in more complicated conclusions the uncertainty and suspicion of hidden errors increases in rapid progression. How does mathematics manage to rid itself of this inconvenience which attaches to it in the highest degree? By making proofs more rigorous? By giving new rules according to which the old rules shall be applied? Not in the least. A very great uncertainty continues to attach to the result of each single computation. But there are checks. In the realm of mathematics each point may be reached by a hundred different ways; and if each of a hundred ways leads to the same point, one may be sure that the right point has been reached. A calculation without a check is as good as none. Just so it is with every isolated proof in any speculative science whatever; the proof may be ever so ingenious, and ever so perfectly true and correct, it will still fail to convince permanently. He will therefore be much deceived, who, in metaphysics, or in psychology which depends on metaphysics, hopes to see his greatest care in the precise determination of the concepts and in the logical conclusions rewarded by conviction, much less by success in transmitting conviction to others. Not only must the conclusions support each other, without coercion or suspicion of subreption, but in all matters originating in experience, or judging concerning experience, the results of speculation must be verified by experience, not only superficially, but in countless special cases.
In Werke [Kehrbach] (1890), Bd. 5, 105. As quoted, cited and translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 19.
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It is only through the psyche that we can establish that God acts upon us, but we are unable to distinguish whether these actions emanate from God or from the unconscious. We cannot tell whether God and the unconscious are two different entities. Both are border-line concepts for transcendental contents.
Carl Jung
In Psychology and Religion: West and East (1969), 468.
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It is the symbolic language of mathematics only which has yet proved sufficiently accurate and comprehensive to demand familiarity with this conception of an inverse process.
John Venn
In 'The Symbol of Division', Symbolic Logic (1894), 74, footnote.
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It is the task of science, as a collective human undertaking, to describe from the external side, (on which alone agreement is possible), such statistical regularity as there is in a world “in which every event has a unique aspect, and to indicate where possible the limits of such description. It is not part of its task to make imaginative interpretation of the internal aspect of reality—what it is like, for example, to be a lion, an ant or an ant hill, a liver cell, or a hydrogen ion. The only qualification is in the field of introspective psychology in which each human being is both observer and observed, and regularities may be established by comparing notes. Science is thus a limited venture. It must act as if all phenomena were deterministic at least in the sense of determinable probabilities. It cannot properly explain the behaviour of an amoeba as due partly to surface and other physical forces and partly to what the amoeba wants to do, with out danger of something like 100 per cent duplication. It must stick to the former. It cannot introduce such principles as creative activity into its interpretation of evolution for similar reasons. The point of view indicated by a consideration of the hierarchy of physical and biological organisms, now being bridged by the concept of the gene, is one in which science deliberately accepts a rigorous limitation of its activities to the description of the external aspects of events. In carrying out this program, the scientist should not, however, deceive himself or others into thinking that he is giving an account of all of reality. The unique inner creative aspect of every event necessarily escapes him.
In 'Gene and Organism', American Naturalist, (1953), 87, 17.
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It must be conceded that a theory has an important advantage if its basic concepts and fundamental hypotheses are 'close to experience,' and greater confidence in such a theory is certainly justified. There is less danger of going completely astray, particularly since it takes so much less time and effort to disprove such theories by experience. Yet more and more, as the depth of our knowledge increases, we must give up this advantage in our quest for logical simplicity in the foundations of physical theory...
'On the Generalized Theory of Gravitation', Scientific American (Apr 1950), 13. In David H. Levy (Ed.), The Scientific American Book of the Cosmos (2000), 19.
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It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I also cannot imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere has been cited as a statement that precedes the last three sentences here, but this might have originated in a paraphrase, a transcription error, or a misquotation; it does not appear in any editions of the essay which have thus far been checked.
…...
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It’s important to always bear in mind that life occurs in historical time. Everyone in every culture lives in some sort of historical time, though it might not be perceived in the same way an outside observer sees it. It’s an interesting question, “When is now?” “Now” can be drawn from some point like this hour, this day, this month, this lifetime, or this generation. “Now” can also have occurred centuries ago; things like unfair treaties, the Trail of Tears, and the Black Hawk War, for instance, remain part of the “Now” from which many Native Americans view their place in time today. Human beings respond today to people and events that actually occurred hundreds or even thousands of years ago. Ethnohistorians have played a major role in showing how now is a social concept of time, and that time is part of all social life. I can only hope that their work will further the understanding that the study of social life is a study of change over time.
From Robert S. Grumet, 'An Interview with Anthony F. C. Wallace', Ethnohistory (Winter 1998), 45, No. 1, 127.
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I’d like the [Cosmos] series to be so visually stimulating that somebody who isn’t even interested in the concepts will just watch for the effects. And I’d like people who are prepared to do some thinking to be really stimulated.
Quoted by Dennis Meredith, in 'Carl Sagan’s Cosmic Connection and Extraterrestrial Life-Wish', Science Digest (Jun 1979), 85, 38. Reproduced in Carl Sagan and Tom Head, Conversations With Sagan (2006), 55.
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Just as the introduction of the irrational numbers … is a convenient myth [which] simplifies the laws of arithmetic … so physical objects are postulated entities which round out and simplify our account of the flux of existence… The conceptional scheme of physical objects is [likewise] a convenient myth, simpler than the literal truth and yet containing that literal truth as a scattered part.
In J. Koenderink Solid Shape (1990.), 16.
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Mathematical economics is old enough to be respectable, but not all economists respect it. It has powerful supporters and impressive testimonials, yet many capable economists deny that mathematics, except as a shorthand or expository device, can be applied to economic reasoning. There have even been rumors that mathematics is used in economics (and in other social sciences) either for the deliberate purpose of mystification or to confer dignity upon commonplaces as French was once used in diplomatic communications. …. To be sure, mathematics can be extended to any branch of knowledge, including economics, provided the concepts are so clearly defined as to permit accurate symbolic representation. That is only another way of saying that in some branches of discourse it is desirable to know what you are talking about.
In J.R. Newman (ed.), Commentary on Cournot, Jevons and the Mathematics of Money', The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 2, 1200.
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Mathematicians seem to have no difficulty in creating new concepts faster than the old ones become well understood.
Acceptance Speech for the Kyoto Prize (1991), 'A scientist by choice'. On kyotoprize.org website.
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Mathematics is perfectly free in its development and is subject only to the obvious consideration, that its concepts must be free from contradictions in themselves, as well as definitely and orderly related by means of definitions to the previously existing and established concepts.
In Grundlagen einer allgemeinen Manigfaltigkeitslehre (1883), Sect. 8.
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Mathematics is the science of skillful operations with concepts and rules invented just for this purpose.
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, 536.
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Mathematics is the tool specially suited for dealing with abstract concepts of any kind and there is no limit to its power in this field.
The Principles of Quantum Mechanics (1930, 1981), Preface, viii.
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Mathematics, among all school subjects, is especially adapted to further clearness, definite brevity and precision in expression, although it offers no exercise in flights of rhetoric. This is due in the first place to the logical rigour with which it develops thought, avoiding every departure from the shortest, most direct way, never allowing empty phrases to enter. Other subjects excel in the development of expression in other respects: translation from foreign languages into the mother tongue gives exercise in finding the proper word for the given foreign word and gives knowledge of laws of syntax, the study of poetry and prose furnish fit patterns for connected presentation and elegant form of expression, composition is to exercise the pupil in a like presentation of his own or borrowed thoughtsand their development, the natural sciences teach description of natural objects, apparatus and processes, as well as the statement of laws on the grounds of immediate sense-perception. But all these aids for exercise in the use of the mother tongue, each in its way valuable and indispensable, do not guarantee, in the same manner as mathematical training, the exclusion of words whose concepts, if not entirely wanting, are not sufficiently clear. They do not furnish in the same measure that which the mathematician demands particularly as regards precision of expression.
In Anleitung zum mathematischen Unterricht in höheren Schulen (1906), 17.
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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.
In Critique of Pure Reason, Preface to the Second Edition, (1900), 690.
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Mathematics, indeed, is the very example of brevity, whether it be in the shorthand rule of the circle, c = πd, or in that fruitful formula of analysis, e = -1, —a formula which fuses together four of the most important concepts of the science,—the logarithmic base, the transcendental ratio π, and the imaginary and negative units.
In 'The Poetry of Mathematics', The Mathematics Teacher (May 1926), 19, No. 5, 293.
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Mathematics, or the science of magnitudes, is that system which studies the quantitative relations between things; logic, or the science of concepts, is that system which studies the qualitative (categorical) relations between things.
In 'The Axioms of Logic', Tertium Organum: The Third Canon of Thought; a Key to the Enigmas of the World (1922), 246.
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Mathematics, the science of the ideal, becomes the means of investigating, understanding and making known the world of the real. The complex is expressed in terms of the simple. From one point of view mathematics may be defined as the science of successive substitutions of simpler concepts for more complex.
In A Scrap-book of Elementary Mathematics (1908), 215.
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Methods of fishing are becoming more and more efficient, but the whole fishing industry is based on the exploitation of a wild population. This is almost a prehistoric concept on land, but it has never been questioned at sea.
In Men, Machines, and Sacred Cows (1984), 162.
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Modern theories did not arise from revolutionary ideas which have been, so to speak, introduced into the exact sciences from without. On the contrary they have forced their way into research which was attempting consistently to carry out the programme of classical physics—they arise out of its very nature. It is for this reason that the beginnings of modern physics cannot be compared with the great upheavals of previous periods like the achievements of Copernicus. Copernicus’s idea was much more an import from outside into the concepts of the science of his time, and therefore caused far more telling changes in science than the ideas of modern physics are creating to-day.
In Philosophical Problems of Nuclear Science: Eight Lectures (1952), 13.
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My definition of science is … somewhat as follows: Science is an interconnected series of concepts and conceptual schemes that have developed as a result of experimentation and observation and are fruitful of further experimentation and observations. In this definition the emphasis is on the word “fruitful.”
In Science and Common Sense (1951), 25.
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Neither in the subjective nor in the objective world can we find a criterion for the reality of the number concept, because the first contains no such concept, and the second contains nothing that is free from the concept. How then can we arrive at a criterion? Not by evidence, for the dice of evidence are loaded. Not by logic, for logic has no existence independent of mathematics: it is only one phase of this multiplied necessity that we call mathematics.
How then shall mathematical concepts be judged? They shall not be judged. Mathematics is the supreme arbiter. From its decisions there is no appeal. We cannot change the rules of the game, we cannot ascertain whether the game is fair. We can only study the player at his game; not, however, with the detached attitude of a bystander, for we are watching our own minds at play.
In Number: The Language of Science; a Critical Survey Written for the Cultured Non-Mathematician (1937), 244-245.
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Newton was probably responsible for the concept that there are seven primary colours in the spectrum—he had a strong interest in musical harmonies and, since there are seven distinct notes in the musical scale, he divided up the spectrum into spectral bands with widths corresponding to the ratios of the small whole numbers found in the just scale.
In 'Light and Colour', Trevor Lamb and Janine Bourriau, Colour: Art & Science (1995), 72.
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Of all the concepts which the natural inquirer employs, the simplest are the concepts of space and time.
In Ernst Mach and Thomas J. McCormack (trans.), 'Space and Geometry from the Point of View of Physical Inquiry', Space and Geometry in the Light of Physiological, Psychological and Physical Inquiry (1906), 137. Originally written as an article for The Monist (1 Oct 1903), 14, No. 1, Mach believed the realm of science should include only phenomena directly observable by the senses, and rejected theories of unseeable atomic orbitals.
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On careful examination the physicist finds that in the sense in which he uses language no meaning at all can be attached to a physical concept which cannot ultimately be described in terms of some sort of measurement. A body has position only in so far as its position can be measured; if a position cannot in principle be measured, the concept of position applied to the body is meaningless, or in other words, a position of the body does not exist. Hence if both the position and velocity of electron cannot in principle be measured, the electron cannot have the same position and velocity; position and velocity as expressions of properties which an electron can simultaneously have are meaningless.
Reflections of a Physicist (1950), 90.
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Once a molecule is asymmetric, its extension proceeds also in an asymmetrical sense. This concept completely eliminates the difference between natural and artificial synthesis. The advance of science has removed the last chemical hiding place for the once so highly esteemed vis vitalis.
‘Synthesen in der Zuckergruppe', Berichte der deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft, 1894, 27, 3189.
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One of my guiding principles is don’t do anything that other people are doing. Always do something a little different if you can. The concept is that if you do it a little differently there is a greater potential for reward than if you the same thing that other people are doing. I think that this kind of goal for one’s work, having obviously the maximum risk, would have the maximum reward no matter what the field may be.
In transcript of a video history interview with Seymour Cray by David K. Allison at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, (9 May 1995), 29.
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One should not understand this compulsion to construct concepts, species, forms, purposes, laws ('a world of identical cases') as if they enabled us to fix the real world; but as a compulsion to arrange a world for ourselves in which our existence is made possible:—we thereby create a world which is calculable, simplified, comprehensible, etc., for us.
The Will to Power (Notes written 1883-1888), book 3, no. 521. Trans. W. Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale and ed. W. Kaufmann (1968), 282.
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One should not wrongly reify “cause” and “effect,” as the natural scientists do (and whoever, like them, now “naturalizes” in his thinking), according to the prevailing mechanical doltishness which makes the cause press and push until it “effects” its end; one should use “cause” and “effect” only as pure concepts, that is to say, as conventional fictions for the purpose of designation and communication—not for explanation.
In Beyond Good and Evil (1886). Trans. W. Kaufmann (ed.), Basic Writings of Nietzsche (1968), 219.
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Our experience up to date justifies us in feeling sure that in Nature is actualized the ideal of mathematical simplicity. It is my conviction that pure mathematical construction enables us to discover the concepts and the laws connecting them, which gives us the key to understanding nature… In a certain sense, therefore, I hold it true that pure thought can grasp reality, as the ancients dreamed.
In Herbert Spencer Lecture at Oxford (10 Jun 1933), 'On the Methods of Theoretical Physics'. Printed in Discovery (Jul 1933), 14, 227. Also quoted in Stefano Zambelli and Donald A. R. George, Nonlinearity, Complexity and Randomness in Economics (2012).
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Our knowledge springs from two fundamental sources of the mind; the first is the capacity of receiving representations (receptivity for impressions), the second is the power of knowing an object through these representations (spontaneity [in the production] of concepts).
Critique of Pure Reason (1781), trans. Norman Kemp Smith (1929), 92.
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Pavlov’s data on the two fundamental antagonistic nervous processes—stimulation and inhibition—and his profound generalizations regarding them, in particular, that these processes are parts of a united whole, that they are in a state of constant conflict and constant transition of the one to the other, and his views on the dominant role they play in the formation of the higher nervous activity—all those belong to the most established natural—scientific validation of the Marxist dialectal method. They are in complete accord with the Leninist concepts on the role of the struggle between opposites in the evolution, the motion of matter.
In E. A. Asratyan, I. P. Pavlov: His Life and Work (1953), 153.
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People have wracked their brains for an explanation of benzene and how the celebrated man [Kekulé] managed to come up with the concept of the benzene theory. With regard to the last point especially, a friend of mine who is a farmer and has a lively interest in chemistry has asked me a question which I would like to share with you. My “agricultural friend” apparently believes he has traced the origins of the benzene theory. “Has Kekulé,” so ran the question, “once been a bee-keeper? You certainly know that bees too build hexagons; they know well that they can store the greatest amount of honey that way with the least amount of wax. I always liked it,” my agricultural friend went on, “When I received a new issue of the Berichte; admittedly, I don't read the articles, but I like the pictures very much. The patterns of benzene, naphthalene and especially anthracene are indeed wonderful. When I look at the pictures I always have to think of the honeycombs of my bee hives.”
A. W. Hofmann, after-dinner speech at Kekulé Benzolfest (Mar 1890). Trans. in W. H. Brock, O. Theodor Benfrey and Susanne Stark, 'Hofmann's Benzene Tree at the Kekulé Festivities', Journal of Chemical Education (1991), 68, 888.
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Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world. In our endeavour to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears its ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility or the meaning of such a comparison. But he certainly believes that, as his knowledge increases, his picture of reality will become simpler and simpler and will explain a wider and wider range of his sensuous impressions. He may also believe in the existence of the ideal limit of knowledge and that it is approached by the human mind. He may call this ideal limit the objective truth.
Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld, The Evolution of Physics (1938), 33.
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Probability is the most important concept in modern science, especially as nobody has the slightest notion of what it means.
In Lecture (1929), as quoted in E.T. Bell (ed.), Development of Mathematics (1940), 540.
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Psychoanalysis has changed American psychiatry from a diagnostic to a therapeutic science, not because so many patients are cured by the psychoanalytic technique, but because of the new understanding of psychiatric patients it has given us and the new and different concepts of illness and health.
News summaries 29 Apr 56
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Psychology appeared to be a jungle of confusing, conflicting, and arbitrary concepts. These pre-scientific theories doubtless contained insights which still surpass in refinement those depended upon by psychiatrists or psychologists today. But who knows, among the many brilliant ideas offered, which are the true ones? Some will claim that the statements of one theorist are correct, but others will favour the views of another. Then there is no objective way of sorting out the truth except through scientific research.
From The Scientific Analysis of Personality (1965), 14.
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Pure mathematics is a collection of hypothetical, deductive theories, each consisting of a definite system of primitive, undefined, concepts or symbols and primitive, unproved, but self-consistent assumptions (commonly called axioms) together with their logically deducible consequences following by rigidly deductive processes without appeal to intuition.
In 'Non-Euclidian Geometry of the Fourth Dimension', collected in Henry Parker Manning (ed.), The Fourth Dimension Simply Explained (1910), 58.
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Relativity was a highly technical new theory that gave new meanings to familiar concepts and even to the nature of the theory itself. The general public looked upon relativity as indicative of the seemingly incomprehensible modern era, educated scientists despaired of ever understanding what Einstein had done, and political ideologues used the new theory to exploit public fears and anxieties—all of which opened a rift between science and the broader culture that continues to expand today.
'The Cultural Legacy of Relativity Theory' in Albert Einstein, Robert W. Lawson, Robert Geroch, Roger Penrose and David C. Cassidy, Relativity (2005), 226.
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Religion and science ... constitute deep-rooted and ancient efforts to find richer experience and deeper meaning than are found in the ordinary biological and social satisfactions. As pointed out by Whitehead, religion and science have similar origins and are evolving toward similar goals. Both started from crude observations and fanciful concepts, meaningful only within a narrow range of conditions for the people who formulated them of their limited tribal experience. But progressively, continuously, and almost simultaneously, religious and scientific concepts are ridding themselves of their coarse and local components, reaching higher and higher levels of abstraction and purity. Both the myths of religion and the laws of science, it is now becoming apparent, are not so much descriptions of facts as symbolic expressions of cosmic truths.
'On Being Human,' A God Within, Scribner (1972).
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Rudolf Virchow, often referred to as the father of modern pathology, broke sharply with such traditional concepts by proposing that the basis of all disease is injury to the smallest living unit of the body, namely, the cell. More than a century later, both clinical and experimental pathology remain rooted in Virchow’s cellular pathology.
In Emanuel Rubin and John L. Farber (eds.), Pathology (1944), 2.
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Science advances, not by the accumulation of new facts … but by the continuous development of new concepts.
In A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations by Alan L. Mackay (1991).
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Science develops best when its concepts and conclusions are integrated into the broader human culture and its concerns for ultimate meaning and value. Scientists cannot, therefore, hold themselves entirely aloof from the sorts of issues dealt with by philosophers and theologians. By devoting to these issues something of the energy and care they give to their research in science, they can help others realize more fully the human potentialities of their discoveries. They can also come to appreciate for themselves that these discoveries cannot be a genuine substitute for knowledge of the truly ultimate.
In Letter (1 Jun 1988) to Father George V. Coyne, Director of the Vatican Observatory. On vatican.va website.
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Science emerges from the other progressive activities of man to the extent that new concepts arise from experiments and observations, and that the new concepts in turn lead to further experiments and observations.
From On Understanding Science (1947), 24 as quoted and cited in Naomi Oreskes and John Krige (eds.), Science and Technology in the Global Cold War (2014), 380 & footnote 30 on 391.
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Science is a dynamic undertaking directed to lowering the degree of the empiricism involved in solving problems; or, if you prefer, science is a process of fabricating a web of interconnected concepts and conceptual schemes arising from experiments and ob
Modern Science and Modern Man, p. 62, New York (1952).
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Scientists are going to discover many subtle genetic factors in the makeup of human beings. Those discoveries will challenge the basic concepts of equality on which our society is based. Once we can say that there are differences between people that are easily demonstrable at the genetic level, then society will have to come to grips with understanding diversity—and we are not prepared for that.
(1983).
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So far as modern science is concerned, we have to abandon completely the idea that by going into the realm of the small we shall reach the ultimate foundations of the universe. I believe we can abandon this idea without any regret. The universe is infinite in all directions, not only above us in the large but also below us in the small. If we start from our human scale of existence and explore the content of the universe further and further, we finally arrive, both in the large and in the small, at misty distances where first our senses and then even our concepts fail us.
To the German Society of Scientists and Physicists, Braunschweig, Germany (Sep 1896). As quoted in Anton Z. Capri, Quips, Quotes, and Quanta: An Anecdotal History of Physics (2011), 20. Wiechert was reporting his measurement of the mass of the moving particles in a cathode ray beam (electrons).
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Standard mathematics has recently been rendered obsolete by the discovery that for years we have been writing the numeral five backward. This has led to reevaluation of counting as a method of getting from one to ten. Students are taught advanced concepts of Boolean algebra, and formerly unsolvable equations are dealt with by threats of reprisals.
Getting Even (1978), 44.
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Starting from statistical observations, it is possible to arrive at conclusions which not less reliable or useful than those obtained in any other exact science. It is only necessary to apply a clear and precise concept of probability to such observations.
In Probability, Statistics, and Truth (1939), 1. In the 1957 edition, this was rewritten as, “Starting from statistical observations and applying to them a clear and precise concept of probability it is possible to arrive at conclusions which are just as reliable and “truth-full” and quite as practically useful as those obtained in any other exact science.”
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Students using astrophysical textbooks remain essentially ignorant of even the existence of plasma concepts, despite the fact that some of them have been known for half a century. The conclusion is that astrophysics is too important to be left in the hands of astrophysicists who have gotten their main knowledge from these textbooks. Earthbound and space telescope data must be treated by scientists who are familiar with laboratory and magnetospheric physics and circuit theory, and of course with modern plasma theory.
[Lamenting the traditional neglect of plasma physics]
Quoted in Anthony L. Peratt, 'Dean of the Plasma Dissidents', Washington Times, supplement: The World and I (May 1988),197.
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Surprises in science often arise from new tools rather than from new concepts.
(1999). In Marc J. Madou, Fundamentals of Microfabrication: the Science of Miniaturization (2nd ed., 2002), 379.
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Taxonomy is often regarded as the dullest of subjects, fit only for mindless ordering and sometimes denigrated within science as mere “stamp collecting” (a designation that this former philatelist deeply resents). If systems of classification were neutral hat racks for hanging the facts of the world, this disdain might be justified. But classifications both reflect and direct our thinking. The way we order represents the way we think. Historical changes in classification are the fossilized indicators of conceptual revolutions.
In Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes: Further Reflections in Natural History (1983, 2010), 72
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The arithmetization of mathematics … which began with Weierstrass … had for its object the separation of purely mathematical concepts, such as number and correspondence and aggregate, from intuitional ideas, which mathematics had acquired from long association with geometry and mechanics. These latter, in the opinion of the formalists, are so firmly entrenched in mathematical thought that in spite of the most careful circumspection in the choice of words, the meaning concealed behind these words, may influence our reasoning. For the trouble with human words is that they possess content, whereas the purpose of mathematics is to construct pure thought. But how can we avoid the use of human language? The … symbol. Only by using a symbolic language not yet usurped by those vague ideas of space, time, continuity which have their origin in intuition and tend to obscure pure reason—only thus may we hope to build mathematics on the solid foundation of logic.
In Tobias Dantzig and Joseph Mazur (ed.), Number: The Language of Science (1930, ed. by Joseph Mazur 2007), 99.
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The aim of science is, on the one hand, as complete a comprehension as possible of the connection between perceptible experiences in their totality, and, on the other hand, the achievement of this aim by employing a minimum of primary concepts and relations.
H. Cuny, Albert Einstein: The Man and his Theories (1963), 128.
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The apodictic quality of mathematical thought, the certainty and correctness of its conclusions, are due, not to a special mode of ratiocination, but to the character of the concepts with which it deals. What is that distinctive characteristic? I answer: precision, sharpness, completeness,* of definition. But how comes your mathematician by such completeness? There is no mysterious trick involved; some ideas admit of such precision, others do not; and the mathematician is one who deals with those that do.
In 'The Universe and Beyond', Hibbert Journal (1904-1905), 3, 309. An editorial footnote indicates “precision, sharpness, completeness” — i.e., in terms of the absolutely clear and indefinable.
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The basic ideas and simplest facts of set-theoretic topology are needed in the most diverse areas of mathematics; the concepts of topological and metric spaces, of compactness, the properties of continuous functions and the like are often indispensable.
As co-author with H. Hopf, Topologie I (1935), 23. As quoted, translated and cited in Reinhold Remmert, Theory of Complex Functions (1991), 9-10. From the original German, “Die Grundbegriffe und die einfachsten Tatsachen aus der mengentheoretischen Topologie braucht man in sehr verschiedenen Gebieten der Mathematik; die Begriffe des topologischen und des metrischen Raumes, der Kompaktheit, die Eigenschaften stetiger Abbildungen u. dgl. sind oft unentbehrlich.”
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The belief that mathematics, because it is abstract, because it is static and cold and gray, is detached from life, is a mistaken belief. Mathematics, even in its purest and most abstract estate, is not detached from life. It is just the ideal handling of the problems of life, as sculpture may idealize a human figure or as poetry or painting may idealize a figure or a scene. Mathematics is precisely the ideal handling of the problems of life, and the central ideas of the science, the great concepts about which its stately doctrines have been built up, are precisely the chief ideas with which life must always deal and which, as it tumbles and rolls about them through time and space, give it its interests and problems, and its order and rationality. That such is the case a few indications will suffice to show. The mathematical concepts of constant and variable are represented familiarly in life by the notions of fixedness and change. The concept of equation or that of an equational system, imposing restriction upon variability, is matched in life by the concept of natural and spiritual law, giving order to what were else chaotic change and providing partial freedom in lieu of none at all. What is known in mathematics under the name of limit is everywhere present in life in the guise of some ideal, some excellence high-dwelling among the rocks, an “ever flying perfect” as Emerson calls it, unto which we may approximate nearer and nearer, but which we can never quite attain, save in aspiration. The supreme concept of functionality finds its correlate in life in the all-pervasive sense of interdependence and mutual determination among the elements of the world. What is known in mathematics as transformation—that is, lawful transfer of attention, serving to match in orderly fashion the things of one system with those of another—is conceived in life as a process of transmutation by which, in the flux of the world, the content of the present has come out of the past and in its turn, in ceasing to be, gives birth to its successor, as the boy is father to the man and as things, in general, become what they are not. The mathematical concept of invariance and that of infinitude, especially the imposing doctrines that explain their meanings and bear their names—What are they but mathematicizations of that which has ever been the chief of life’s hopes and dreams, of that which has ever been the object of its deepest passion and of its dominant enterprise, I mean the finding of the worth that abides, the finding of permanence in the midst of change, and the discovery of a presence, in what has seemed to be a finite world, of being that is infinite? It is needless further to multiply examples of a correlation that is so abounding and complete as indeed to suggest a doubt whether it be juster to view mathematics as the abstract idealization of life than to regard life as the concrete realization of mathematics.
In 'The Humanization of Teaching of Mathematics', Science, New Series, 35, 645-46.
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The black holes of nature are the most perfect macroscopic objects there are in the universe: the only elements in their construction are our concepts of space and time.
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The computational formalism of mathematics is a thought process that is externalised to such a degree that for a time it becomes alien and is turned into a technological process. A mathematical concept is formed when this thought process, temporarily removed from its human vessel, is transplanted back into a human mold. To think ... means to calculate with critical awareness.
Mathematics and Physics (1981), Foreward. Reprinted in Mathematics as Metaphor: Selected Essays of Yuri I. Manin (2007), 90.
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The concept of an independent system is a pure creation of the imagination. For no material system is or can ever be perfectly isolated from the rest of the world. Nevertheless it completes the mathematician’s “blank form of a universe” without which his investigations are impossible. It enables him to introduce into his geometrical space, not only masses and configurations, but also physical structure and chemical composition. Just as Newton first conclusively showed that this is a world of masses, so Willard Gibbs first revealed it as a world of systems.
The Order of Nature: An Essay (1917), 126.
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The concept of number is the obvious distinction between the beast and man. Thanks to number, the cry becomes a song, noise acquires rhythm, the spring is transformed into a dance, force becomes dynamic, and outlines figures.
Epigraph, without citation, in Corrective and Social Psychiatry and Journal of Behavior Technology Methods and Therapy (1966), Vol. 12, 409.
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The conception of the atom stems from the concepts of subject and substance: there has to be “something” to account for any action. The atom is the last descendant of the concept of the soul.
Epigraph, without citation, in Edward C. Stark, Essential Chemistry (1979), 97. Also without citation in Isaac Asimov and Jason A. Shulman (eds.), Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 32. Webmaster has not yet been able to identify the primary source (can you help?).
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The concepts and methods on which the classification of hominid taxa is based do not differ in principle from those used for other zoological taxa. Indeed, the classification of living human populations or of samples of fossil hominids is a branch of animal taxonomy.
Opening sentence of 'The Taxonomic Evaluation of Fossil Hominids' (1963). Collected in Sherwood L. Washburn, Classification and Human Evolution (1964), 332.
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The concepts most familiar to us are often the most mysterious.
John Mitchinson and John Lloyd, If Ignorance Is Bliss, Why Aren't There More Happy People?: Smart Quotes for Dumb Times (2009), 217.
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The concepts of ‘soul’ or ‘life’ do not occur in atomic physics, and they could not, even indirectly, be derived as complicated consequences of some natural law. Their existence certainly does not indicate the presence of any fundamental substance other than energy, but it shows only the action of other kinds of forms which we cannot match with the mathematical forms of modern atomic physics ... If we want to describe living or mental processes, we shall have to broaden these structures. It may be that we shall have to introduce yet other concepts.
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The contingency of history (both for life in general and for the cultures of Homo sapiens) and human free will (in the factual rather than theological sense) are conjoined concepts, and no better evidence can be produced than the ‘experimental’ production of markedly different solutions in identical environments.
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The effect of a concept-driven revolution is to explain old things in new ways. The effect of a tool-driven revolution is to discover new things that have to be explained.
In Imagined Worlds (1997), 50-51.
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The fact that man produces a concept ‘I’ besides the totality of his mental and emotional experiences or perceptions does not prove that there must be any specific existence behind such a concept. We are succumbing to illusions produced by our self-created language, without reaching a better understanding of anything. Most of so-called philosophy is due to this kind of fallacy.
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The first concept of continental drift first came to me as far back as 1910, when considering the map of the world, under the direct impression produced by the congruence of the coast lines on either side of the Atlantic. At first I did not pay attention to the ideas because I regarded it as improbable. In the fall of 1911, I came quite accidentally upon a synoptic report in which I learned for the first time of palaeontological evidence for a former land bridge between Brazil and Africa. As a result I undertook a cursory examination of relevant research in the fields of geology and palaeontology, and this provided immediately such weighty corroboration that a conviction of the fundamental soundness of the idea took root in my mind.
In The Origins of Continents and Oceans (4th ed. 1929), trans. John Biram (1966), 1.
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The first nonabsolute number is the number of people for whom the table is reserved. This will vary during the course of the first three telephone calls to the restaurant, and then bear no apparent relation to the number of people who actually turn up, or to the number of people who subsequently join them after the show/match/party/gig, or to the number of people who leave when they see who else has turned up.
The second nonabsolute number is the given time of arrival, which is now known to be one of the most bizarre of mathematical concepts, a recipriversexcluson, a number whose existence can only be defined as being anything other than itself. In other words, the given time of arrival is the one moment of time at which it is impossible that any member of the party will arrive. Recipriversexclusons now play a vital part in many branches of math, including statistics and accountancy and also form the basic equations used to engineer the Somebody Else’s Problem field.
The third and most mysterious piece of nonabsoluteness of all lies in the relationship between the number of items on the check [bill], the cost of each item, the number of people at the table and what they are each prepared to pay for. (The number of people who have actually brought any money is only a subphenomenon of this field.)
Life, the Universe and Everything (1982, 1995), 47-48.
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The frequent allegation that the selective processes in the human species are no longer 'natural' is due to persistence of the obsolete nineteenth-century concept of 'natural' selection. The error of this view is made clear when we ask its proponents such questions as, why should the 'surviving fittest' be able to withstand cold and inclement weather without the benefit of fire and clothing? Is it not ludicrous to expect selection to make us good at defending ourselves against wild beasts when wild beasts are getting to be so rare that it is a privilege to see one outside of a zoo? Is it necessary to eliminate everyone who has poor teeth when our dentists stand ready to provide us with artificial ones? Is it a great virtue to be able to endure pain when anaesthetics are available?
[Co-author with American statistician Gordon Allen]
Theodosius Dobzhansky and Gordon Allen, 'Does Natural Selection Continue to Operate in Modern Mankind?', American Anthropologist, 1956, 58, 595.
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The fundamental concept in social science is Power, in the same sense in which Energy is the fundamental concept in physics.
Power: A New Social Analysis (1938), 10.
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The fundamental concepts of physical science, it is now understood, are abstractions, framed by our mind, so as to bring order to an apparent chaos of phenomena.
From Preface, A History of Science and its Relations with Philosophy & Religion (1931), vii.
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The general statement that the mental faculties are class concepts, belonging to descriptive psychology, relieves us of the necessity of discussing them and their significance at the present stage of our inquiry.
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The great basic thought that the world is not to be comprehended as a complex of ready-made things, but as a complex of processes, in which the things apparently stable no less than their mind-images in our heads, the concepts, go through an uninterrupted change of coming into being and passing away, in which, in spite of all seeming accidents and of all temporary retrogression, a progressive development asserts itself in the end—this great fundamental thought has, especially since the time of Hegel, so thoroughly permeated ordinary consciousness that in this generality it is scarcely ever contradicted.
Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy (1886). C. P. Dutt (ed.) (1934), 54.
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The history of the knowledge of the phenomena of life and of the organized world can be divided into two main periods. For a long time anatomy, and particularly the anatomy of the human body, was the α and ω of scientific knowledge. Further progress only became possible with the discovery of the microscope. A long time had yet to pass until through Schwann the cell was established as the final biological unit. It would mean bringing coals to Newcastle were I to describe here the immeasurable progress which biology in all its branches owes to the introduction of this concept of the cell concept. For this concept is the axis around which the whole of the modern science of life revolves.
Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1908) 'Partial Cell Functions.' Collected in Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1901-1921 (1967), 304.
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The history of thermodynamics is a story of people and concepts. The cast of characters is large. At least ten scientists played major roles in creating thermodynamics, and their work spanned more than a century. The list of concepts, on the other hand, is surprisingly small; there are just three leading concepts in thermodynamics: energy, entropy, and absolute temperature.
In Great Physicists (2001), 93.
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The idea that memory is linear is nonsense. What we have in our heads is a collection of frames. As to time itself—can it be linear when all these snatches of other presents exist at once in your mind? A very elusive and tricky concept, time."
Interview with Sarah Crown, in The Guardian (25 Jul 2009).
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The importance of C.F. Gauss for the development of modern physical theory and especially for the mathematical fundament of the theory of relativity is overwhelming indeed; also his achievement of the system of absolute measurement in the field of electromagnetism. In my opinion it is impossible to achieve a coherent objective picture of the world on the basis of concepts which are taken more or less from inner psychological experience.
Quoted in G. Waldo Dunnington, Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science (2004), 350.
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The infinite! No other question has ever moved so profoundly the spirit of man; no other idea has so fruitfully stimulated his intellect; yet no other concept stands in greater need of clarification than that of the infinite.
Address in memory of Karl Weierstrass. As quoted in Journal of the University of Bombay (1933), 2, 201. Also in Tobias Dantzig, Number: The Language of Science (1937), 237. Also partially quoted as epigraph in in James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 3, 1593. which dates the address as 1921. Another translation for perhaps the same address ('On the Infinite'), in honor of Weierstrass, dates it as 4 Jun 1925, in Paul Benacerraf (ed.) Philosophy of Mathematics (1983), 183. See this alternate version elsewhere on this page, beginning, “From time immemorial…”.
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The influence of the Mongols, who were Arabs without Aristotle and without algebra, contributed nothing on the level of proto-scientific concepts and interests.
As given in Efthymios Nicolaidis, Science and Eastern Orthodoxy: From the Greek Fathers to the Age of (2011), 140.
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The kinetic concept of motion in classical theory will have to undergo profound modifications. (That is why I also avoided the term “orbit” in my paper throughout.) … We must not bind the atoms in the chains of our prejudices—to which, in my opinion, also belongs the assumption that electron orbits exist in the sense of ordinary mechanics—but we must, on the contrary, adapt our concepts to experience.
Letter to Niels Bohr (12 Dec 1924), in K. von Meyenn (ed.), Wolfgang Pauli - Wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz (1979), Vol. 1, 188. Quoted and cited in Daniel Greenberger, Klaus Hentschel and Friedel Weinert, Compendium of Quantum Physics: Concepts, Experiments, History and Philosophy (2009), 615.
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The main source of the present-day conflicts between the spheres of religion and of science lies in this concept of a personal God.
…...
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The mass starts into a million suns;
Earths round each sun with quick explosions burst,
And second planets issue from the first.
[The first concept of a 'big bang' theory of the universe.]
The Botanic Garden (1789-1791, 1805), 12.
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The mathematically formulated laws of quantum theory show clearly that our ordinary intuitive concepts cannot be unambiguously applied to the smallest particles. All the words or concepts we use to describe ordinary physical objects, such as position, velocity, color, size, and so on, become indefinite and problematic if we try to use them of elementary particles.
In Across the Frontiers (1974), 114.
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The mechanist is intimately convinced that a precise knowledge of the chemical constitution, structure, and properties of the various organelles of a cell will solve biological problems. This will come in a few centuries. For the time being, the biologist has to face such concepts as orienting forces or morphogenetic fields. Owing to the scarcity of chemical data and to the complexity of life, and despite the progresses of biochemistry, the biologist is still threatened with vertigo.
Problems of Morphogenesis in Ciliates: The Kinetosomes in Development, Reproduction and Evolution (1950), 92-3.
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The moon, which is a favorite of the poets and portrayed by the Buddhists as representing the esthetic qualities of peace, serenity and beauty, is now being conquered by man’s ever expanding knowledge of science and technology. What was a mere conceptional imagination is today a concrete reality. The American landing on the moon symbolizes the very acme of scientific achievement. It is indeed a phenomenal feat of far-reaching consequences for the world of science.
In 'Reactions to Man’s Landing on the Moon Show Broad Variations in Opinions', The New York Times (21 Jul 1969), 6.
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The more clearly the immensely speculative nature of geological science is recognized, the easier it becomes to remodel our concepts of any inferred terrestrial conditions and processes in order to make outrages upon them not outrageous.
'The Value of Outrageous Geological Hypotheses', Science, 1926, 63, 466.
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The most ordinary things are to philosophy a source of insoluble puzzles. In order to explain our perceptions it constructs the concept of matter and then finds matter quite useless either for itself having or for causing perceptions in a mind. With infinite ingenuity it constructs a concept of space or time and then finds it absolutely impossible that there be objects in this space or that processes occur during this time ... The source of this kind of logic lies in excessive confidence in the so-called laws of thought.
'On Statistical Mechanics' (1904), in Theoretical Physics and Philosophical Problems (1974), 164-5.
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The notion of evolution predicts the nested pattern of relationships we find in the living world; supernatural creation, on the other hand, predicts nothing. It is concepts of this latter kind that are truly untestable.
In The Monkey in the Mirror: Essays on the Science of What Makes Us Human (2003), 15.
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The object of pure mathematics is those relations which may be conceptually established among any conceived elements whatsoever by assuming them contained in some ordered manifold; the law of order of this manifold must be subject to our choice; the latter is the case in both of the only conceivable kinds of manifolds, in the discrete as well as in the continuous.
In Über das System der rein mathematischen Wissenschaften, Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker-Vereinigung, Bd. 1, 36. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 3.
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The physicist cannot simply surrender to the philosopher the critical contemplation of the theoretical foundations for he himself knows best and feels most surely where the shoe pinches. … he must try to make clear in his own mind just how far the concepts which he uses are justified … The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking. It is for this reason that the critical thinking of the physicist cannot possibly be restricted by the examination of the concepts of his own specific field. He cannot proceed without considering critically a much more difficult problem, the problem of analyzing the nature of everyday thinking.
‘Physics and Reality’, Franklin Institute Journal (Mar 1936). Collected in Out of My Later Years (1950), 59.
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The popular and scientific views of “race” no longer coincide. The word “race,” as applied scientifically to human groupings, has lost any sharpness of meaning. To-day it is hardly definable in scientific terms, except as an abstract concept which may, under certain conditions, very different from those now prevalent, have been realized approximately in the past and might, under certain other but equally different conditions, be realized in the distant future.
Co-author with British anthropologist Alfred Cort Haddon (1855-1940).
In Julian S. Huxley and A.C. Haddon, We Europeans: A survey of “Racial” Problems (1935), 107.
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The presentation of mathematics where you start with definitions, for example, is simply wrong. Definitions aren't the places where things start. Mathematics starts with ideas and general concepts, and then definitions are isolated from concepts. Definitions occur somewhere in the middle of a progression or the development of a mathematical concept. The same thing applies to theorems and other icons of mathematical progress. They occur in the middle of a progression of how we explore the unknown.
Interview for website of the Mathematical Association of America.
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The products of the senses, especially those of sight, hearing, and touch, form the basis of all the higher thought processes. Hence the importance of developing accurate sense concepts. … The purpose of objective thinking is to enable the mind to think without the help of objects.
As quoted in William W. Speer, Primary Arithmetic (1896), 1.
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The professor may choose familiar topics as a starting point. The students collect material, work problems, observe regularities, frame hypotheses, discover and prove theorems for themselves. … the student knows what he is doing and where he is going; he is secure in his mastery of the subject, strengthened in confidence of himself. He has had the experience of discovering mathematics. He no longer thinks of mathematics as static dogma learned by rote. He sees mathematics as something growing and developing, mathematical concepts as something continually revised and enriched in the light of new knowledge. The course may have covered a very limited region, but it should leave the student ready to explore further on his own.
In A Concrete Approach to Abstract Algebra (1959), 1-2.
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The progress of science has always been the result of a close interplay between our concepts of the universe and our observations on nature. The former can only evolve out of the latter and yet the latter is also conditioned greatly by the former. Thus in our exploration of nature, the interplay between our concepts and our observations may sometimes lead to totally unexpected aspects among already familiar phenomena.
'Weak Interactions and Nonconservation of Parity', Nobel Lecture, 11 Dec 1957. In Nobel Lectures: Physics 1942-1962 (1964), 417.
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The purely formal sciences, logic and mathematics, deal with such relations which are independent of the definite content, or the substance of the objects, or at least can be. In particular, mathematics involves those relations of objects to each other that involve the concept of size, measure, number.
In Theorie der Complexen Zahlensysteme, (1867), 1. Translated by Webmaster using Google Translate from the original German, “Die rein formalen Wissenschaften, Logik und Mathematik, haben solche Relationen zu behandeln, welche unabhängig von dem bestimmten Inhalte, der Substanz der Objecte sind oder es wenigstens sein können.”
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The purely formal Sciences, logic and mathematics, deal with those relations which are, or can be, independent of the particular content or the substance of objects. To mathematics in particular fall those relations between objects which involve the concepts of magnitude, of measure and of number.
In Theorie der Complexen Zahlensysteme (1867), 1. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 4. From the original German, “Die rein formalen Wissenschaften, Logik und Mathematik, haben solche Relationen zu behandeln, welche unabhängig von dem bestimmten Inhalte, der Substanz der Objecte sind oder es wenigstens sein können. Der Mathematik fallen ins Besondere diejenigen Beziehungen der Objecte zu einander zu, die den Begriff der Grösse, des Maasses, der Zahl involviren.”
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The reason why new concepts in any branch of science are hard to grasp is always the same; contemporary scientists try to picture the new concept in terms of ideas which existed before.
In 'Innovation in Physics', Scientific American, 1958, 199, 76. Collected in From Eros to Gaia (1993).
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The recent ruling by the Supreme Court restricting obscenity in books, magazines and movies, requires that we re-examine our own journals for lewd contents. The recent chemical literature provides many examples of words and concepts whose double meaning and thinly veiled overtones are an affront to all clean chemists. What must a layman think of ‘coupling constants’, ‘tickling techniques’, or indeed ‘increased overlap’? The bounds of propriety are surely exceeded when heterocyclic chemists discuss homoenolization.
In Chemical Engineering News (8 Oct 1973), 68.
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The results of mathematics are seldom directly applied; it is the definitions that are really useful. Once you learn the concept of a differential equation, you see differential equations all over, no matter what you do. This you cannot see unless you take a course in abstract differential equations. What applies is the cultural background you get from a course in differential equations, not the specific theorems. If you want to learn French, you have to live the life of France, not just memorize thousands of words. If you want to apply mathematics, you have to live the life of differential equations. When you live this life, you can then go back to molecular biology with a new set of eyes that will see things you could not otherwise see.
In 'A Mathematician's Gossip', Indiscrete Thoughts (2008), 213.
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The rigid electron is in my view a monster in relation to Maxwell's equations, whose innermost harmony is the principle of relativity... the rigid electron is no working hypothesis, but a working hindrance. Approaching Maxwell's equations with the concept of the rigid electron seems to me the same thing as going to a concert with your ears stopped up with cotton wool. We must admire the courage and the power of the school of the rigid electron which leaps across the widest mathematical hurdles with fabulous hypotheses, with the hope to land safely over there on experimental-physical ground.
In Arthur I. Miller, Albert Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity (1981), 350.
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The same applies to the concept of force as does to any other physical concept: Verbal definitions are meaningless; real definitions are given through a measuring process.
As given in epigraph, without citation, in Eberhard Zeidler and Juergen Quandt (trans.), Nonlinear Functional Analysis and its Applications: IV: Applications to Mathematical Physics (2013), 9.
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The solutions put forth by imperialism are the quintessence of simplicity...When they speak of the problems of population and birth, they are in no way moved by concepts related to the interests of the family or of society...Just when science and technology are making incredible advances in all fields, they resort to technology to suppress revolutions and ask the help of science to prevent population growth. In short, the peoples are not to make revolutions, and women are not to give birth. This sums up the philosophy of imperialism.
From Fidel Castro (1968).
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The success of any operation is as much dependent on execution as it is on planning and concept.
Anonymous
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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 tendency of modern physics is to resolve the whole material universe into waves, and nothing but waves. These waves are of two kinds: bottled-up waves, which we call matter, and unbottled waves, which we call radiation or light. If annihilation of matter occurs, the process is merely that of unbottling imprisoned wave-energy and setting it free to travel through space. These concepts reduce the whole universe to a world of light, potential or existent, so that the whole story of its creation can be told with perfect accuracy and completeness in the six words: 'God said, Let there be light'.
In The Mysterious Universe (1930, 1932), 97-98
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The ultimate origin of the difficulty lies in the fact (or philosophical principle) that we are compelled to use the words of common language when we wish to describe a phenomenon, not by logical or mathematical analysis, but by a picture appealing to the imagination. Common language has grown by everyday experience and can never surpass these limits. Classical physics has restricted itself to the use of concepts of this kind; by analysing visible motions it has developed two ways of representing them by elementary processes; moving particles and waves. There is no other way of giving a pictorial description of motions—we have to apply it even in the region of atomic processes, where classical physics breaks down.
Max Born
Atomic Physics (1957), 97.
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The vital act is the act of participation. “Participator” is the incontrovertible new concept given by quantum mechanics. It strikes down the term “observer” of classical theory, the man who stands safely behind the thick glass wall and watches what goes on without taking part. It can’t be done, quantum mechanics says.
In Charles W. Misner, Kip S. Thorne, John Archibald Wheeler, 'Beyond the Edge of Time', Gravitation (1973), Part 3, 1217.
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The Wegener hypothesis has been so stimulating and has such fundamental implications in geology as to merit respectful and sympathetic interest from every geologist. Some striking arguments in his favor have been advanced, and it would be foolhardy indeed to reject any concept that offers a possible key to the solution of profound problems in the Earth's history.
Published while geologists remained sceptical of Alfred Wegener's idea of Continental Drift, Though unconvinced, he published these thoughts suggesting that critics should be at least be open-minded. His patience was proven justified when two decades later, the theory of plate tectonics provided a mechanism for the motion of the continents.
Some Thoughts on the Evidence for Continental Drift (1944).
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Their specific effect on the glucosides might thus be explained by assuming that the intimate contact between the molecules necessary for the release of the chemical reaction is possible only with similar geometrical configurations. To give an illustration I will say that enzyme and glucoside must fit together like lock and key in order to be able to exercise a chemical action on each other. This concept has undoubtedly gained in probability and value for stereochemical research, after the phenomenon itself was transferred from the biological to the purely chemical field. It is an extension of the theory of asymmetry without being a direct consequence of it: for the conviction that the geometrical structure of the molecule even for optical isomers exercises such a great influence on the chemical affinities, in my opinion could only be gained by new actual observations.
'Einfluss der Configuration auf die wirkung der Enzyme', Berichte der deutschen Chemischen Gesellschaft, 1894, 27, 2985-93. Trans. B. Holmstedt and G. Liljestrand (eds.) Readings in Pharmacology (1963), 251.
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There are, at present, fundamental problems in theoretical physics … the solution of which … will presumably require a more drastic revision of our fundmental concepts than any that have gone before. Quite likely, these changes will be so great that it will be beyond the power of human intelligence to get the necessary new ideas by direct attempts to formulate the experimental data in mathematical terms. The theoretical worker in the future will, therefore, have to proceed in a more direct way. The most powerful method of advance that can be suggested at present is to employ all the resources of pure mathematics in attempts to perfect and generalize the mathematical formalism that forms the existing basis of theoretical physics, and after each success in this direction, to try to interpret the new mathematical features in terms of physical entities.
At age 28.
Proceedings of the Royal Society (1931), A133, 60. In A. Pais, 'Playing With Equations, the Dirac Way'. Behram N. Kursunoglu (Ed.) and Eugene Paul Wigner (Ed.), Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac: Reminiscences about a Great Physicist (1990), 109.
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There is a strange disparity between the sciences of inert matter and those of life. Astronomy, mechanics, and physics are based on concepts which can be expressed, tersely and elegantly, in mathematical language. They have built up a universe as harmonious as the monuments of ancient Greece. They weave about it a magnificent texture of calculations and hypotheses. They search for reality beyond the realm of common thought up to unutterable abstractions consisting only of equations of symbols. Such is not the position of biological sciences. Those who investigate the phenomena of life are as if lost in an inextricable jungle, in the midst of a magic forest, whose countless trees unceasingly change their place and their shape. They are crushed under a mass of facts, which they can describe but are incapable of defining in algebraic equations.
Man the Unknown (1935), 1.
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There is no inductive method which could lead to the fundamental concepts of physics. Failure to understand this fact constituted the basic philosophical error of so many investigators of the nineteenth century.
Opening of section 4, 'The Theory of Relativity', in Physics and Reality (1936), collected in Essays in Physics (1950), 34.
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Therefore it is by no means an idle game if we become practiced in analysing long-held commonplace concepts and showing the circumstances on which their justification and usefulness depend, and how they have grown up, individually, out of the givens of experience. Thus their excessive authority will be broken.
…...
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This irrelevance of molecular arrangements for macroscopic results has given rise to the tendency to confine physics and chemistry to the study of homogeneous systems as well as homogeneous classes. In statistical mechanics a great deal of labor is in fact spent on showing that homogeneous systems and homogeneous classes are closely related and to a considerable extent interchangeable concepts of theoretical analysis (Gibbs theory). Naturally, this is not an accident. The methods of physics and chemistry are ideally suited for dealing with homogeneous classes with their interchangeable components. But experience shows that the objects of biology are radically inhomogeneous both as systems (structurally) and as classes (generically). Therefore, the method of biology and, consequently, its results will differ widely from the method and results of physical science.
Atom and Organism: A New Approach to Theoretical Biology (1966), 34.
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This is the reason why all attempts to obtain a deeper knowledge of the foundations of physics seem doomed to me unless the basic concepts are in accordance with general relativity from the beginning. This situation makes it difficult to use our empirical knowledge, however comprehensive, in looking for the fundamental concepts and relations of physics, and it forces us to apply free speculation to a much greater extent than is presently assumed by most physicists.
…...
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Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind... The understanding can intuit nothing, the senses can think nothing. Only through their union can knowledge arise.
Critique of Pure Reason (1781), trans. Norman Kemp Smith (1929), 93.
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To characterize the import of pure geometry, we might use the standard form of a movie-disclaimer: No portrayal of the characteristics of geometrical figures or of the spatial properties of relationships of actual bodies is intended, and any similarities between the primitive concepts and their customary geometrical connotations are purely coincidental.
From 'Geometry and Empirical Science', collected in Carl Hempel and James H. Fetzer (ed.), The Philosophy of Carl G. Hempel: Studies in Science, Explanation, and Rationality (2001), Chap. 2, 24. Also Carl Hempel, 'Geometry and Empirical Science', collected in J.R. Newman (ed.), The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 3, 1641.
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To us investigators, the concept 'soul' is irrelevant and a matter for laughter. But matter is an abstraction of exactly the same kind, just as good and just as bad as it is. We know as much about the soul as we do of matter.
'Die Geschichte und die Wurzel des Satzes von der Erhaltung der Arbeit' (1872). Trans. Philip E. Jourdain, History and Root of the Principle of the Conservation of Energy (1911), 48.
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Today it is no longer questioned that the principles of the analysts are the more far-reaching. Indeed, the synthesists lack two things in order to engage in a general theory of algebraic configurations: these are on the one hand a definition of imaginary elements, on the other an interpretation of general algebraic concepts. Both of these have subsequently been developed in synthetic form, but to do this the essential principle of synthetic geometry had to be set aside. This principle which manifests itself so brilliantly in the theory of linear forms and the forms of the second degree, is the possibility of immediate proof by means of visualized constructions.
In Riemannsche Flächen (1906), Bd. 1, 234.
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Under the... new hypothesis [of Continental Drift] certain geological concepts come to acquire a new significance amounting in a few cases to a complete inversion of principles, and the inquirer will find it necessary to re-orient his ideas. For the first time he will get glimpses... of a pulsating restless earth, all parts of which are in greater or less degree of movement in respect to the axis of rotation, having been so, moreover, throughout geological time. He will have to leave behind him—perhaps reluctantly—the dumbfounding spectacle of the present continental masses, firmly anchored to a plastic foundation yet remaining fixed in space; set thousands of kilometres apart, it may be, yet behaving in almost identical fashion from epoch to epoch and stage to stage like soldiers, at drill; widely stretched in some quarters at various times and astoundingly compressed in others, yet retaining their general shapes, positions and orientations; remote from one another through history, yet showing in their fossil remains common or allied forms of terrestrial life; possessed during certain epochs of climates that may have ranged from glacial to torrid or pluvial to arid, though contrary to meteorological principles when their existing geographical positions are considered -to mention but a few such paradoxes!
Our Wandering Continents: An Hypothesis of Continental Drifting (1937), 3.
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War and the steam engine joined forces and forged what was to become one of the most delicate of concepts. Sadi Carnot … formed the opinion that one cause of France’s defeat had been her industrial inferiority. … Carnot saw steam power as a universal motor. … Carnot was a visionary and sharp analyst of what was needed to improve the steam engine. … Carnot’s work … laid the foundations of [thermodynamics].
In The Second Law (1984), 1-2.
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We are just beginning to understand how molecular reaction systems have found a way to “organize themselves”. We know that processes of this nature ultimately led to the life cycle, and that (for the time being?) Man with his central nervous system, i.e. his memory, his mind, and his soul, stands at the end of this development and feels compelled to understand this development. For this purpose he must penetrate into the smallest units of time and space, which also requires new ideas to make these familiar concepts from physics of service in understanding what has, right into our century, appeared to be beyond the confines of space and time.
Answering “Where Now?” as the conclusion of his Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1967) on 'Immeasurably Fast Reactions', published in Nobel Lectures, Chemistry 1963-1970 (1972).
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We come now to the question: what is a priori certain or necessary, respectively in geometry (doctrine of space) or its foundations? Formerly we thought everything; nowadays we think nothing. Already the distance-concept is logically arbitrary; there need be no things that correspond to it, even approximately.
In article he wrote, 'Space-Time', for Encyclopaedia Britannica (14th ed., 1929), Vol. 21, 106.
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We have here no esoteric theory of the ultimate nature of concepts, nor a philosophical championing of the primacy of the 'operation'. We have merely a pragmatic matter, namely that we have observed after much experience that if we want to do certain kinds of things with our concepts, our concepts had better be constructed in certain ways. In fact one can see that the situation here is no different from what we always find when we push our analysis to the limit; operations are not ultimately sharp or irreducible any more than any other sort of creature. We always run into a haze eventually, and all our concepts are describable only in spiralling approximation.
Reflections of a Physicist (1950 ), 9.
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We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.
The Outermost House (1928), 25.
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We need another, wiser, and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. For the animal shall not be measured by man....They are not underlings. They are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of Earth.
The Outermost House: A Year of Life On The Great Beach of Cape Cod (2003), 24-25.
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We receive experience from nature in a series of messages. From these messages we extract a content of information: that is, we decode the messages in some way. And from this code of information we then make a basic vocabulary of concepts and a basic grammar of laws, which jointly describe the inner organization that nature translates into the happenings and the appearances we meet.
The Identity of Man. Quoted in Richard Dawkins, The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing (2008), 176-7.
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We speak of virtue, honour, reason; but our thought does not translate any one of these concepts into a substance.
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What distinguishes the language of science from language as we ordinarily understand the word? … What science strives for is an utmost acuteness and clarity of concepts as regards their mutual relation and their correspondence to sensory data.
In Out of My Later Years (1950, 1956), 112. Footnoted on page 277 as from 'The Common Language of Science', a broadcast recording for the Science Conference, London (28 Sep 1941) and published in Advancement of Science, 2, No. 5, 16.
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What the founders of modern science, among them Galileo, had to do, was not to criticize and to combat certain faulty theories, and to correct or to replace them by better ones. They had to do something quite different. They had to destroy one world and to replace it by another. They had to reshape the framework of our intellect itself, to restate and to reform its concepts, to evolve a new approach to Being, a new concept of knowledge, a new concept of science—and even to replace a pretty natural approach, that of common sense, by another which is not natural at all.
In 'Galileo and Plato', Journal of the History of Ideas (1943), 405.
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Whenever a new scientific concept comes into prominence, it sends shock waves of surprise to the scholars contributing to that field.
In The Gene: A Critical History (1966), 77.
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Whereas the man of action binds his life to reason and its concepts so that he will not be swept away and lost, the scientific investigator builds his hut right next to the tower of science so that he will be able to work on it and to find shelter for himself beneath those bulwarks which presently exist.
On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense (1873). Collected in Keith Ansell-Pearson (ed.), and Duncan Large (ed.), The Nietzsche Reader (2006), 121.
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While the dogmatist is harmful, the sceptic is useless …; one is certain of knowing, the other of not knowing. What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or of ignorance. Knowledge is not so precise a concept as is commonly thought. Instead of saying ‘I know this’, we ought to say ‘I more or less know something more or less like this’. … Knowledge in practical affairs has not the certainty or the precision of arithmetic.
From 'Philosophy For Laymen', collected in Unpopular Essays (1950, 1996), 38-39.
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Without the concepts, methods and results found and developed by previous generations right down to Greek antiquity one cannot understand either the aims or achievements of mathematics in the last fifty years.
In 'A Half-Century of Mathematics', The American Mathematical Monthly, 58, No. 8, 523.
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Without the discovery of uniformities there can be no concepts, no classifications, no formulations, no principles, no laws; and without these no science can exist.
Co-editor with American psychologist Henry Murray (1893-1988)
'Personality Formation: the Determinants'. In Clyde Kluckhohn and Henry A. Murray (eds.), Personality in Nature, Society, and Culture (1949), 37-8.
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[An outsider views a scientist] as a type of unscrupulous opportunist: he appears as a realist, insofar as he seeks to describe the world independent of the act of perception; as idealist insofar as he looks upon the concepts and theories as the free inventions of the human spirit (not logically derivable from that which is empirically given); as positivist insofar as he considers his concepts and theories justified only to the extent to which they furnish a logical representation of relations among sense experiences. He may even appear as Platonist or Pythagorean insofar as he considers the viewpoint of logical simplicity as an indispensable and effective tool of his research.
In 'Reply to Critcisms', Paul Arthur Schilpp (ed.), Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist (1949, 1959), Vol. 2, 684.
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[In mathematics] we behold the conscious logical activity of the human mind in its purest and most perfect form. Here we learn to realize the laborious nature of the process, the great care with which it must proceed, the accuracy which is necessary to determine the exact extent of the general propositions arrived at, the difficulty of forming and comprehending abstract concepts; but here we learn also to place confidence in the certainty, scope and fruitfulness of such intellectual activity.
In Ueber das Verhältnis der Naturwissenschaften zur Gesammtheit der Wissenschaft, Vorträge und Reden (1896), Bd. 1, 176. Also seen translated as “In mathematics we see the conscious logical activity of our mind in its purest and most perfect form; here is made manifest to us all the labor and the great care with which it progresses, the precision which is necessary to determine exactly the source of the established general theorems, and the difficulty with which we form and comprehend abstract conceptions; but we also learn here to have confidence in the certainty, breadth, and fruitfulness of such intellectual labor”, in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 20. From the original German, “Hier sehen wir die bewusste logische Thätigkeit unseres Geistes in ihrer reinsten und vollendetsten Form; wir können hier die ganze Mühe derselben kennen lernen, die grosse Vorsicht, mit der sie vorschreiten muss, die Genauigkeit, welche nöthig ist, um den Umfang der gewonnenen allgemeinen Sätze genau zu bestimmen, die Schwierigkeit, abstracte Begriffe zu bilden und zu verstehen; aber ebenso auch Vertrauen fassen lernen in die Sicherheit, Tragweite und Fruchtbarkeit solcher Gedankenarbeit.”
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[On the concept of group:] … what a wealth, what a grandeur of thought may spring from what slight beginnings.
From Address (1913) of the president to the Mathematical and Physical Science Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Birmingham, 'The Place of Pure Mathematics', Science (12 Sep 1913), New Series,38, No. 976, 352. Excerpted in Florian Cajori, 'The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: Introduction', A History of Mathematics (1919), 283
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[The chemical bond] First, it is related to the disposition of two electrons (remember, no one has ever seen an electron!): next, these electrons have their spins pointing in opposite directions (remember, no one can ever measure the spin of a particular electron!): then, the spatial distribution of these electrons is described analytically with some degree of precision (remember, there is no way of distinguishing experimentally the density distribution of one electron from another!): concepts like hybridization, covalent and ionic structures, resonance, all appear, not one of which corresponds to anything that is directly measurable. These concepts make a chemical bond seem so real, so life-like, that I can almost see it. Then I wake with a shock to the realization that a chemical bond does not exist; it is a figment of the imagination that we have invented, and no more real than the square root of - 1. I will not say that the known is explained in terms of the unknown, for that is to misconstrue the sense of intellectual adventure. There is no explanation: there is form: there is structure: there is symmetry: there is growth: and there is therefore change and life.
Quoted in his obituary, Biographical Memoirs of the Fellows of the Royal Society 1974, 20, 96.
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[T]he laws of quantum mechanics itself cannot be formulated … without recourse to the concept of consciousness.
From essay by Eugene Wigner, 'The Probability of the Existence of a Self-Reproducing Unit', contributed in M. Polanyi, The Logic of Personal Knowledge: Essays Presented to Michael Polanyi on his Seventieth Birthday, 11th March 1961 (1961), 232.
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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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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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