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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index D > Category: Doubt

Doubt Quotes (160 quotes)

Dogbert (advice to Boss): Every credible scientist on earth says your products harm the environment. I recommend paying weasels to write articles casting doubt on the data. Then eat the wrong kind of foods and hope you die before the earth does.
Dilbert cartoon strip (30 Oct 2007).
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Douter de tout ou tout croire, ce sont deux solutions également commodes, qui l’une et l’autre nous dispensent de défléchir.
To doubt everything and to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; each saves us from thinking.
From 'Introduction', La Science et l’Hypothèse (1902), 2. Translation by George Bruce Halsted, 'Introduction', Science and Hypothesis (New York, 1905), 1. In 'Author’s Preface', Science and Hypothesis (London 1905), xxii, it is translated more closely as “To doubt everything and to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection.”
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Doutons même du doute.
Even doubt the doubt.
'Discours d’A. France à la Société des Etudes Rabelaisiennes 21 mars 1912' as cited in Edith Tendron, Anatole France Inconnu (1995), 26 & footnote 222.

Goldsmith: If you put a tub full of blood into a stable, the horses are like to go mad.
Johnson: I doubt that.
Goldsmith: Nay, sir, it is a fact well authenticated.
Thrale: You had better prove it before you put it into your book on natural history. You may do it in my stable if you will.
Johnson: Nay, sir, I would not have him prove it. If he is content to take his information from others, he may get through his book with little trouble, and without much endangering his reputation. But if he makes experiments for so comprehensive a book as his, there would be no end to them; his erroneous assertions would then fall upon himself: and he might be blamed for not having made experiments as to every particular.
In James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.: Comprehending an Account of His Studies and Numerous Works (1785, 1830), 229-230.
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Haec quippe prima sapientiae clavis definitur, assidua scilicet seu frequens interrogatio … Dubitando enim ad inquisitionem venimus; inquirendo veritatem percipimus.
For this is the first key to wisdom, assiduous and frequent questioning. ... By doubting we come to inquiry; by inquiry we perceive the truth.
Sic et Non (c. 1120). Latin text in Peter Abelard, E.L.T. Henke and G.S. Lindenkohl (eds.), Sic et Non (1851), 16-17. Title translates as Yes or No. As translated in Frederick Denison Maurice, Mediaeval Philosophy; Or, A Treatise of Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy (1870), 138.
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Le savoir scientifique avance à pas trébuchants, sous le fouet de la contention et du doute.
Scientific knowledge advances haltingly and is stimulated by contention and doubt.
Original French in Mythologiques, Vol. 1, Le Cru et le Cuit (1964), 15. As translated by John and Doreen Weightman, The Raw and the Cooked (1969, 1990), 7. A more literal translation could be: “Scientific knowledge advances with stumbling steps, under the whip of contention and doubt.”
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Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason—Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge.
Letter to George and Thomas Keats (21 Dec 1817). In H. E. Rollins (ed.), Letters of John Keats (1958), Vol. 1, 193-4.
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Pour réussir dans la science, il faut douter; pour réussir dans la vie, il faut être sûr.
To succeed in science, one must doubt; to succeed in life, one must be sure.
In Recueil d'Œuvres de Léo Errera: Botanique Générale (1908), 193. Google translation by Webmaster.
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A person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings, and aspirations to which he clings because of their superpersonal value. It seems to me that what is important is the force of this superpersonal content and the depth of the conviction concerning its overpowering meaningfulness, regardless of whether any attempt is made to unite this content with a divine Being, for otherwise it would not be possible to count Buddha and Spinoza as religious personalities. Accordingly, a religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance and loftiness of those superpersonal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation. They exist with the same necessity and matter-of-factness as he himself. In this sense religion is the age-old endeavor of mankind to become clearly and completely conscious of these values and goals and constantly to strengthen and extend their effect. If one conceives of religion and science according to these definitions then a conflict between them appears impossible. For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary.
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A tree nowhere offers a straight line or a regular curve, but who doubts that root, trunk, boughs, and leaves embody geometry?
From chapter 'Jottings from a Note-Book', in Canadian Stories (1918), 172.
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A very sincere and serious freshman student came to my office with a question that had clearly been troubling him deeply. He said to me, ‘I am a devout Christian and have never had any reason to doubt evolution, an idea that seems both exciting and well documented. But my roommate, a proselytizing evangelical, has been insisting with enormous vigor that I cannot be both a real Christian and an evolutionist. So tell me, can a person believe both in God and in evolution?’ Again, I gulped hard, did my intellectual duty, a nd reassured him that evolution was both true and entirely compatible with Christian belief –a position that I hold sincerely, but still an odd situation for a Jewish agnostic.
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Among people I have met, the few whom I would term “great” all share a kind of unquestioned, fierce dedication; an utter lack of doubt about the value of their activities (or at least an internal impulse that drives through any such angst); and above all, a capacity to work (or at least to be mentally alert for unexpected insights) at every available moment of every day of their lives.
From The Lying Stones of Marrakech: Penultimate Reflections in Natural History (2000), 76.
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An involuntary return to the point of departure is, without doubt, the most disturbing of all journeys.
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And for mathematical sciences, he that doubts their certainty hath need of a dose of Hellebore.
The Vanity of Dogmatizing (1661), ch. xxi, 209.

Anybody who has any doubt about the ingenuity or the resourcefulness of a plumber never got a bill from one.
On CBS television (8 Jan 1954). As quoted in Julia Vitullo-Martin and J. Robert Moskin, The Executive's Book of Quotations (2002), 146.
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Archimedes possessed so high a spirit, so profound a soul, and such treasures of highly scientific knowledge, that though these inventions [used to defend Syracuse against the Romans] had now obtained him the renown of more than human sagacity, he yet would not deign to leave behind him any commentary or writing on such subjects; but, repudiating as sordid and ignoble the whole trade of engineering, and every sort of art that lends itself to mere use and profit, he placed his whole affection and ambition in those purer speculations where there can be no reference to the vulgar needs of life; studies, the superiority of which to all others is unquestioned, and in which the only doubt can be whether the beauty and grandeur of the subjects examined, or the precision and cogency of the methods and means of proof, most deserve our admiration.
Plutarch
In John Dryden (trans.), Life of Marcellus.
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Are the atoms of the dextroacid (tartaric) grouped in the spirals of a right-hand helix or situated at the angles of an irregular tetrahedron, or arranged in such or such particular unsymmetrical fashion? We are unable to reply to these questions. But there can be no reason for doubting that the grouping of the atoms has an unsymmetrical arrangement with a non-superimposable image. It is not less certain that the atoms of the laevo-acid realize precisely an unsymmetrical arrangement of the inverse of the above.
Leçons de Chemie (1860), 25.
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But, you might say, “none of this shakes my belief that 2 and 2 are 4.” You are quite right, except in marginal cases—and it is only in marginal cases that you are doubtful whether a certain animal is a dog or a certain length is less than a meter. Two must be two of something, and the proposition “2 and 2 are 4” is useless unless it can be applied. Two dogs and two dogs are certainly four dogs, but cases arise in which you are doubtful whether two of them are dogs. “Well, at any rate there are four animals,” you may say. But there are microorganisms concerning which it is doubtful whether they are animals or plants. “Well, then living organisms,” you say. But there are things of which it is doubtful whether they are living organisms or not. You will be driven into saying: “Two entities and two entities are four entities.” When you have told me what you mean by “entity,” we will resume the argument.
In Basic Writings, 1903-1959 (1961), 108.
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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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Concerning the alchemist, Mamugnano, no one harbors doubts any longer about his daily experiments in changing quicksilver into gold. It was realized that his craft did not go beyond one pound of quicksilver… . Thus the belief is now held that his allegations to produce a number of millions have been a great fraud.
Anonymous
'Further Successes by Bragadini. From Vienna on the 26th day of January 1590'. As quoted in George Tennyson Matthews (ed.) News and Rumor in Renaissance Europe: The Fugger Newsletters (1959), 179. A handwritten collection of news reports (1568-1604) by the powerful banking and merchant house of Fugger in Ausburg.
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Considering that, among all those who up to this time made discoveries in the sciences, it was the mathematicians alone who had been able to arrive at demonstrations—that is to say, at proofs certain and evident—I did not doubt that I should begin with the same truths that they have investigated, although I had looked for no other advantage from them than to accustom my mind to nourish itself upon truths and not to be satisfied with false reasons.
In Discourse upon Method, Part 2, in Henry A. Torrey (ed., trans. )Philosophy of Descartes in Extracts from His Writings , (1892), 47-48.
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Direct observation of the testimony of the earth … is a matter of the laboratory, of the field naturalist, of indefatigable digging among the ancient archives of the earth’s history. If Mr. Bryan, with an open heart and mind, would drop all his books and all the disputations among the doctors and study first hand the simple archives of Nature, all his doubts would disappear; he would not lose his religion; he would become an evolutionist.
'Evolution and Religion', New York Times (5 Mar 1922), 91. Written in response to an article a few days earlier in which William Jennings Bryan challenged the theory of evolution as lacking proof.
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Dissent is the native activity of the scientist, and it has got him into a good deal of trouble in the last years. But if that is cut off, what is left will not be a scientist. And I doubt whether it will be a man.
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Does the harmony the human intelligence thinks it discovers in nature exist outside of this intelligence? No, beyond doubt, a reality completely independent of the mind which conceives it, sees or feels it, is an impossibility.
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Does there truly exist an insuperable contradiction between religion and science? Can religion be superseded by science? The answers to these questions have, for centuries, given rise to considerable dispute and, indeed, bitter fighting. Yet, in my own mind there can be no doubt that in both cases a dispassionate consideration can only lead to a negative answer. What complicates the solution, however, is the fact that while most people readily agree on what is meant by ‘science,’ they are likely to differ on the meaning of ‘religion.’
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Doubt comes in at the window, when Inquiry is denied at the door.
In 'On the Interpretation of Scripture', Essays and Reviews (1860), 373.
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Doubt is the beginning, not the end, of wisdom.
From chapter 'Jottings from a Note-book', in Canadian Stories (1918), 167.
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Doubt is the offspring of knowledge: the savage never doubts at all.
In The Martyrdom of Man (1876), 242.
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Education must be subversive if it is to be meaningful. By this I mean that it must challenge all the things we take for granted, examine all accepted assumptions, tamper with every sacred cow, and instil a desire to question and doubt.
As quoted, without citation, in Ronald William Clark, The Life of Bertrand Russell (1976), 423.
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Einstein, twenty-six years old, only three years away from crude privation, still a patent examiner, published in the Annalen der Physik in 1905 five papers on entirely different subjects. Three of them were among the greatest in the history of physics. One, very simple, gave the quantum explanation of the photoelectric effect—it was this work for which, sixteen years later, he was awarded the Nobel prize. Another dealt with the phenomenon of Brownian motion, the apparently erratic movement of tiny particles suspended in a liquid: Einstein showed that these movements satisfied a clear statistical law. This was like a conjuring trick, easy when explained: before it, decent scientists could still doubt the concrete existence of atoms and molecules: this paper was as near to a direct proof of their concreteness as a theoretician could give. The third paper was the special eory of relativity, which quietly amalgamated space, time, and matter into one fundamental unity. This last paper contains no references and quotes no authority. All of them are written in a style unlike any other theoretical physicist's. They contain very little mathematics. There is a good deal of verbal commentary. The conclusions, the bizarre conclusions, emerge as though with the greatest of ease: the reasoning is unbreakable. It looks as though he had reached the conclusions by pure thought, unaided, without listening to the opinions of others. To a surprisingly large extent, that is precisely what he had done.
Variety of Men (1966), 100-1.
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Few people doubt that the Apollo missions to the Moon as well as the precursory Mercury and Gemini missions not only had a valuable role for the United States in its Cold War with the Soviet Union but also lifted the spirits of humankind. In addition, the returned samples of lunar surface material fueled important scientific discoveries.
In 'Is Human Spaceflight Obsolete?', Issues in Science and Technology (Summer 2004).
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For myself, I found that I was fitted for nothing so well as for the study of Truth; as having a mind nimble and versatile enough to catch the resemblances of things (which is the chief point) , and at the same time steady enough to fix and distinguish their subtler differences; as being gifted by nature with desire to seek, patience to doubt, fondness to meditate, slowness to assert, readiness to reconsider, carefulness to dispose and set in order; and as being a man that neither affects what is new nor admires what is old, and that hates every kind of imposture. So I thought my nature had a kind of familiarity and relationship with Truth.
From 'Progress of philosophical speculations. Preface to intended treatise De Interpretatione Naturæ (1603), in Francis Bacon and James Spedding (ed.), Works of Francis Bacon (1868), Vol. 3, 85.
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However much the pits may be apparent, yet none, as far as can be comprehended by the senses, passes through the septum of the heart from the right ventricle into the left. I have not seen even the most obscure passages by which the septum of the ventricles is pervious, although they are mentioned by professors of anatomy since they are convinced that blood is carried from the right ventricle into the left. As a result—as I shall declare more openly elsewhere—I am in no little doubt regarding the function of the heart in this part.
In De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem [Seven Books on the Structure of the Human Body] (revised ed. 1555), 734. Quoted and trans. in Charles Donald O'Malley, Andreas Vesalius of Brussels, 1514-1564 (1964), 281.
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Human knowledge is the parent of doubt.
In Maxims, Characters, and Reflections, Critical, Satyrical and Moral (2nd ed., 1757), 9.
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I am ashamed to say that C. P. Snow's “two cultures” debate smoulders away. It is an embarrassing and sterile debate, but at least it introduced us to Medawar's essays. Afterwards, not even the most bigoted aesthete doubted that a scientist could be every inch as cultivated and intellectually endowed as a student of the humanities.
The Times
From 'Words of Hope', The Times (17 May 1988). Quoted in Neil Calver, 'Sir Peter Medawar: Science, Creativity and the Popularization of Karl Popper', Notes and Records of the Royal Society (May 2013), 67, 303.
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I am of the decided opinion, that mathematical instruction must have for its first aim a deep penetration and complete command of abstract mathematical theory together with a clear insight into the structure of the system, and doubt not that the instruction which accomplishes this is valuable and interesting even if it neglects practical applications. If the instruction sharpens the understanding, if it arouses the scientific interest, whether mathematical or philosophical, if finally it calls into life an esthetic feeling for the beauty of a scientific edifice, the instruction will take on an ethical value as well, provided that with the interest it awakens also the impulse toward scientific activity. I contend, therefore, that even without reference to its applications mathematics in the high schools has a value equal to that of the other subjects of instruction.
In 'Ueber das Lehrziel im mathemalischen Unterricht der höheren Realanstalten', Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung, 2, 192. (The Annual Report of the German Mathematical Association. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 73.
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I believe that the useful methods of mathematics are easily to be learned by quite young persons, just as languages are easily learned in youth. What a wondrous philosophy and history underlie the use of almost every word in every language—yet the child learns to use the word unconsciously. No doubt when such a word was first invented it was studied over and lectured upon, just as one might lecture now upon the idea of a rate, or the use of Cartesian co-ordinates, and we may depend upon it that children of the future will use the idea of the calculus, and use squared paper as readily as they now cipher. … When Egyptian and Chaldean philosophers spent years in difficult calculations, which would now be thought easy by young children, doubtless they had the same notions of the depth of their knowledge that Sir William Thomson might now have of his. How is it, then, that Thomson gained his immense knowledge in the time taken by a Chaldean philosopher to acquire a simple knowledge of arithmetic? The reason is plain. Thomson, when a child, was taught in a few years more than all that was known three thousand years ago of the properties of numbers. When it is found essential to a boy’s future that machinery should be given to his brain, it is given to him; he is taught to use it, and his bright memory makes the use of it a second nature to him; but it is not till after-life that he makes a close investigation of what there actually is in his brain which has enabled him to do so much. It is taken because the child has much faith. In after years he will accept nothing without careful consideration. The machinery given to the brain of children is getting more and more complicated as time goes on; but there is really no reason why it should not be taken in as early, and used as readily, as were the axioms of childish education in ancient Chaldea.
In Teaching of Mathematics (1902), 14.
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I can live with doubt and uncertainty. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.
From transcript of a BBC television program, 'The Pleasure of Finding Things Out' (1981). In Richard Phillips Feynman and Jeffrey Robbins (ed.), The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: the Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman (2000), 24.
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I do not forget that Medicine and Veterinary practice are foreign to me. I desire judgment and criticism upon all my contributions. Little tolerant of frivolous or prejudiced contradiction, contemptuous of that ignorant criticism which doubts on principle, I welcome with open arms the militant attack which has a method of doubting and whose rule of conduct has the motto “More light.”
In Louis Pasteur and Harold Clarence Ernst (trans), The Germ Theory and Its Application to Medicine and Surgery, Chap. 12. Reprinted in Charles W. Eliot (ed.), The Harvard Classics: Scientific Papers: Physiology, Medicine, Surgery, Geology (1897, 1910), Vol. 38, 401-402. Cited as read before French Academy of Science (20 Apr 1878), published in Comptes Rendus de l’Académie des Sciences, 84, 1037-43.
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I had never doubted my own abilities, but I was quite prepared to believe that “the world” would decline to recognize them.
In Postscript to the Outsider (1967), 3.
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I have no doubt but that my engines will propel boats against the current of the Mississippi, and wagons on turnpike roads, with great profit.
Address to Lancaster turnpike company (25 Sep 1804). As cited in 'On the Origin of Steam Boats and Steam Wagons', Thomas Cooper (ed.), The Emporium of Arts and Sciences (Feb 1814), 2, No. 2, 213.
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I have no doubt that it is possible to give a new direction to technological development, a direction that shall lead it back to the real needs of man, and that also means: to the actual size of man. Man is small, and, therefore, small is beautiful. To go
Small is Beautiful (1973).
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I have procured some of the mice mentioned in my former letters, a young one and a female with young, both of which I have preserved in brandy. From the colour, shape, size, and manner of nesting, I make no doubt but that the species is nondescript [not known to science]. They are much smaller and more slender than the mus domesticus medius of Ray; and have more of the squirrel or dormouse colour ... They never enter into houses; are carried into ricks and barns with the sheaves; abound in harvest, and build their nests amidst the straws of the corn above the ground, and sometimes in thistles.
[Part of his observations on the harvest mouse, which he was the first to describe as a new species.]
Letter XII (4 Nov 1767) in The Natural History of Selborne (1789, 1899), 31.
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I have said that the investigation for which the teeth of the shark had furnished an opportunity, was very near an end... But thereafter, while I was examining more carefully these details of both places and bodies [sedimentary deposits and shells], these day by day presented points of doubt to me as they followed one another in indissoluble connection, so that I saw myself again and again brought back to the starting-place, as it were, when I thought I was nearest the goal. I might compare those doubts to the heads of the Lernean Hydra, since when one of them had been got rid of, numberless others were born; at any rate, I saw that I was wandering about in a sort of labyrinth, where the nearer one approaches the exit, the wider circuits does one tread.
The Prodromus of Nicolaus Steno's Dissertation Concerning a Solid Body enclosed by Process of Nature within a Solid (1669), trans. J. G. Winter (1916), 206.
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I love to read the dedications of old books written in monarchies–for they invariably honor some (usually insignificant) knight or duke with fulsome words of sycophantic insincerity, praising him as the light of the universe (in hopes, no doubt, for a few ducats to support future work); this old practice makes me feel like such an honest and upright man, by comparison, when I put a positive spin, perhaps ever so slightly exaggerated, on a grant proposal.
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Thomas Edison quote “Afraid of things that worked”, record track background+colorized photo of Edison & tinfoil phonograph
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I was always afraid of things that worked the first time. Long experience proved that there were great drawbacks found generally before they could be got commercial; but here was something there was no doubt of.
[Recalling astonishment when his tin-foil cylinder phonograph first played back his voice recording of “Mary had a little lamb.”]
Quoted in Frank Lewis Dyer, Thomas Commerford Martin, Edison: His Life and Inventions (1910), 208.
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I was there when Abbe Georges Lemaître first proposed this [Big Bang] theory. ... There is no rational reason to doubt that the universe has existed indefinitely, for an infinite time. .... It is only myth that attempts to say how the universe came to be, either four thousand or twenty billion years ago.
[Expressing his belief that the Big Bang is a myth devised to explain creation. He said he heard Lemaître (who was, at the time both a member of the Catholic hierarchy and an accomplished scientist) say in private that this theory was a way to reconcile science with St. Thomas Aquinas' theological dictum of creatio ex nihilo—creation out of nothing.]
Quoted in Anthony L. Peratt, 'Dean of the Plasma Dissidents', Washington Times, supplement: The World and I (May 1988),196.
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If a hundred or a thousand people, all of the same age, of the same constitution and habits, were suddenly seized by the same illness, and one half of them were to place themselves under the care of doctors, such as they are in our time, whilst the other half entrusted themselves to Nature and to their own discretion, I have not the slightest doubt that there would be more cases of death amongst the former, and more cases of recovery among the latter.
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If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call in question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it—the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.
In 'The Ethics of Belief', Contemporary Review (Jan 1877), collected in Leslie Stephen and Frederick Pollock (eds.), Lectures and Essays: By the Late William Kingdon Clifford, F.R.S. (1886), 346.
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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 knowledge is my God, doubt would be my religion.
Quotations: Superultramodern Science and Philosophy (2005), 3
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If you ask me whether science has solved, or is likely to solve, the problem of this universe, I must shake my head in doubt. We have been talking of matter and force; but whence came matter, and whence came force? You remember the first Napoleon’s question, when the savans who accompanied him to Egypt discussed in his presence the problem of the universe, and solved it to their apparent satisfaction. He looked aloft to the starry heavens, and said—“It is all very well, gentlemen, but who made all these!” That question still remains unanswered, and science makes no attempt to answer it.
Lecture 'On Matter and Force', to nearly 3,000 working men, at the Dundee Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (Sep 1867), reported in 'Dundee Meeting, 1867', Chemical News and Journal of Physical Science (Nov 1867)
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In a famous passage, René Descartes tells us that he considered himself to be placed in three simultaneous domiciles, patiently recognizing his loyalties to the social past, fervidly believing in a final solution of nature’s secrets and in the meantime consecrated to the pursuit of scientific doubt. Here we have the half way house of the scientific laboratory, of the scientific mind in the midst of its campaign.
In 'The Three Dimensions of Time', Part I, 'The Classic of Science', A Classic and a Founder (1937), collected in Rosenstock-Huessy Papers (1981), Vol. 1, 14.
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In experimental science it’s always a mistake not to doubt when facts do not compel you to affirm.
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In fact, no opinion should be with fervour. No one holds with fervour that seven times eight is fifty-six, because it can be shown to be the case. Fervour is only necessary in commending an opinion which is doubtful or demonstrably false.
In Institut et Musée Voltaire, Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century (1994), 314. Also quoted in Max Perutz, Is Science Necessary? (1991), 196.
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In order to seek truth, it is necessary once in the course of our life, to doubt, as far as possible, of all things.
From the original Latin: “Veritatem inquirenti, semel in vita de omnibus, quantum fieri potest, esse dubitandum,” Principles of Philosophy (1644). Pars Prima, as collected in Charles Adam and Paul Tannery, Œuvres de Descartes (1905), Vol. 8, Proposition I, 5. English version as given in John Veitch (trans.), The Method, Meditations, and Selections from the Principles of Descartes (1880), 193. Also seen translated as: “If you would be a real seeker after truth, you must at least once in your life doubt, as far as possible, all things.”
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In science, self-satisfaction is death. Personal self-satisfaction is the death of the scientist. Collective self-satisfaction is the death of the research. It is restlessness, anxiety, dissatisfaction, agony of mind that nourish science.
Quoted in 'Ariadne', New Scientist (17 Jun 1976) 70, 680, which states it comes from Le Nouvel Observateur which revived the quote, “from an earlier interview.” If you know this primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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Is man a peculiar organism? Does he originate in a wholly different way from a dog, bird, frog, or fish? and does he thereby justify those who assert that he has no place in nature, and no real relationship with the lower world of animal life? Or does he develop from a similar embryo, and undergo the same slow and gradual progressive modifications? The answer is not for an instant doubtful, and has not been doubtful for the last thirty years. The mode of man’s origin and the earlier stages of his development are undoubtedly identical with those of the animals standing directly below him in the scale; without the slightest doubt, he stands in this respect nearer the ape than the ape does to the dog. (1863)
As quoted in Ernst Haeckel and E. Ray Lankester (trans.) as epigraph for Chap. 12, The History of Creation (1886), Vol. 1, 364.
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It has sometimes been said that the success of the Origin proved “that the subject was in the air,” or “that men's minds were prepared for it.” I do not think that this is strictly true, for I occasionally sounded not a few naturalists, and never happened to come across a single one who seemed to doubt about the permanence of species.
In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters (1892), 42.
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It is very remarkable that while the words Eternal, Eternity, Forever, are constantly in our mouths, and applied without hesitation, we yet experience considerable difficulty in contemplating any definite term which bears a very large proportion to the brief cycles of our petty chronicles. There are many minds that would not for an instant doubt the God of Nature to have existed from all Eternity, and would yet reject as preposterous the idea of going back a million of years in the History of His Works. Yet what is a million, or a million million, of solar revolutions to an Eternity?
Memoir on the Geology of Central France (1827), 165.
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It may be doubted whether any character can be named which is distinctive of a race and is constant.
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It may be observed of mathematicians that they only meddle with such things as are certain, passing by those that are doubtful and unknown. They profess not to know all things, neither do they affect to speak of all things. What they know to be true, and can make good by invincible arguments, that they publish and insert among their theorems. Of other things they are silent and pass no judgment at all, chusing [choosing] rather to acknowledge their ignorance, than affirm anything rashly. They affirm nothing among their arguments or assertions which is not most manifestly known and examined with utmost rigour, rejecting all probable conjectures and little witticisms. They submit nothing to authority, indulge no affection, detest subterfuges of words, and declare their sentiments, as in a Court of Judicature [Justice], without passion, without apology; knowing that their reasons, as Seneca testifies of them, are not brought to persuade, but to compel.
Mathematical Lectures (1734), 64.
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It may well be doubted whether, in all the range of Science, there is any field so fascinating to the explorer—so rich in hidden treasures—so fruitful in delightful surprises—as that of Pure Mathematics. The charm lies chiefly, I think, in the absolute certainty of its results: for that is what, beyond all mental treasures, the human intellect craves for. Let us only be sure of something! More light, more light … “And if our fate be death, give light and let us die” This is the cry that, through all the ages, is going up from perplexed Humanity, and Science has little else to offer, that will really meet the demands of its votaries, than the conclusions of Pure Mathematics.
Opening of 'Introduction', A New Theory of Parallels (1890), xv. As a non-fiction work, the author’s name on the title page of this book was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Being better known for his works of fiction as Lewis Carroll, all quotes relating to this one person, published under either name, are gathered on this single web page under his pen name.
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Kirchhoff’s whole tendency, and its true counterpart, the form of his presentation, was different [from Maxwell’s “dramatic bulk”]. … He is characterized by the extreme precision of his hypotheses, minute execution, a quiet rather than epic development with utmost rigor, never concealing a difficulty, always dispelling the faintest obscurity. … he resembled Beethoven, the thinker in tones. — He who doubts that mathematical compositions can be beautiful, let him read his memoir on Absorption and Emission … or the chapter of his mechanics devoted to Hydrodynamics.
In Ceremonial Speech (15 Nov 1887) celebrating the 301st anniversary of the Karl-Franzens-University Graz. Published as Gustav Robert Kirchhoff: Festrede zur Feier des 301. Gründungstages der Karl-Franzens-Universität zu Graz (1888), 30, as translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 187. From the original German, “Kirchhoff … seine ganze Richtung war eine andere, und ebenso auch deren treues Abbild, die Form seiner Darstellung. … Ihn charakterisirt die schärfste Präcisirung der Hypothesen, feine Durchfeilung, ruhige mehr epische Fortentwicklung mit eiserner Consequenz ohne Verschweigung irgend einer Schwierigkeit, unter Aufhellung des leisesten Schattens. … er glich dem Denker in Tönen: Beethoven. – Wer in Zweifel zieht, dass mathematische Werke künstlerisch schön sein können, der lese seine Abhandlung über Absorption und Emission oder den der Hydrodynamik gewidmeten Abschnitt seiner Mechanik.” The memoir reference is Gesammelte Abhandlungen (1882), 571-598.
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Let us now declare the means whereby our understanding can rise to knowledge without fear of error. There are two such means: intuition and deduction. By intuition I mean not the varying testimony of the senses, nor the deductive judgment of imagination naturally extravagant, but the conception of an attentive mind so distinct and so clear that no doubt remains to it with regard to that which it comprehends; or, what amounts to the same thing, the self-evidencing conception of a sound and attentive mind, a conception which springs from the light of reason alone, and is more certain, because more simple, than deduction itself. …
It may perhaps be asked why to intuition we add this other mode of knowing, by deduction, that is to say, the process which, from something of which we have certain knowledge, draws consequences which necessarily follow therefrom. But we are obliged to admit this second step; for there are a great many things which, without being evident of themselves, nevertheless bear the marks of certainty if only they are deduced from true and incontestable principles by a continuous and uninterrupted movement of thought, with distinct intuition of each thing; just as we know that the last link of a long chain holds to the first, although we can not take in with one glance of the eye the intermediate links, provided that, after having run over them in succession, we can recall them all, each as being joined to its fellows, from the first up to the last. Thus we distinguish intuition from deduction, inasmuch as in the latter case there is conceived a certain progress or succession, while it is not so in the former; … whence it follows that primary propositions, derived immediately from principles, may be said to be known, according to the way we view them, now by intuition, now by deduction; although the principles themselves can be known only by intuition, the remote consequences only by deduction.
In Rules for the Direction of the Mind, Philosophy of Descartes. [Torrey] (1892), 64-65.
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Many climate sceptics seem to review scientific data and studies not as scientists but as attorneys, magnifying doubts and treating incomplete explanations as falsehoods rather than signs of progress towards the truth.
Editorial, Nature (28 Jul 2011), 475, 423-424.
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Medicines heals doubts as well as diseases.
Karl Marx
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Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe, but in proportion to their readiness to doubt.
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Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin—a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or not man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing.
In Orthodoxy (1908), 24.
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Modern science is necessarily a double-edged tool, a tool that cuts both ways. ... There is no doubt that a Zeppelin is a wonderful thing; but that did not prevent it from becoming a horrible thing.
'The Efficiency of the Police', Illustrated London News (1 Apr 1922). Collected in G. K. Chesterton and Dale Ahlquist (ed.), In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton (2011), 314.
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Most people like to believe something is or is not true. Great scientists tolerate ambiguity very well. They believe the theory enough to go ahead; they doubt it enough to notice the errors and faults so they can step forward and create the new replacement theory. If you believe too much you’ll never notice the flaws; if you doubt too much you won’t get started. It requires a lovely balance.
'You and Your Research', Bell Communications Research Colloquium Seminar, 7 Mar 1986.
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Natural historians tend to avoid tendentious preaching in this philosophical mode (although I often fall victim to such temptations in these essays). Our favored style of doubting is empirical: if I wish to question your proposed generality, I will search for a counterexample in flesh and blood. Such counterexamples exist in abundance, for the form a staple in a standard genre of writing in natural history–the “wonderment of oddity” or “strange ways of the beaver” tradition.
In 'Reversing Established Orders', Leonardo’s Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms (2011), 394.
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Nature shows us only the tail of the lion. But I do not doubt that the lion belongs to it even though he cannot at once reveal himself because of his enormous size.
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
Although this quote is frequently seen, “the quotation does not appear in any of Mead’s published work, and may have first appeared in one of her public speeches, perhaps, some say, in her speech at the Earth Day celebration in 1970.” As stated by Nancy Lutkehaus, 'Margaret Mead: Public Anthropologist', Anthropology Now (Apr 2009), 1, No. 1, 34.
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No history of civilization can be tolerably complete which does not give considerable space to the explanation of scientific progress. If we had any doubts about this, it would suffice to ask ourselves what constitutes the essential difference between our and earlier civilizations. Throughout the course of history, in every period, and in almost every country, we find a small number of saints, of great artists, of men of science. The saints of to-day are not necessarily more saintly than those of a thousand years ago; our artists are not necessarily greater than those of early Greece; they are more likely to be inferior; and of course, our men of science are not necessarily more intelligent than those of old; yet one thing is certain, their knowledge is at once more extensive and more accurate. The acquisition and systematization of positive knowledge is the only human activity which is truly cumulative and progressive. Our civilization is essentially different from earlier ones, because our knowledge of the world and of ourselves is deeper, more precise, and more certain, because we have gradually learned to disentangle the forces of nature, and because we have contrived, by strict obedience to their laws, to capture them and to divert them to the gratification of our own needs.
Introduction to the History of Science (1927), Vol. 1, 3-4.
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No one believes the results of the computational modeler except the modeler, for only he understands the premises. No one doubts the experimenter’s results except the experimenter, for only he knows his mistakes.
Anonymous
See a similar idea expressed by W.I.B. Beveredge, beginning “No one believes an hypothesis…” on the W.I.B. Beveredge Quotes web page on this site.
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Now, that this whiteness is a Mixture of the severally colour’d rays, falling confusedly on the paper, I see no reason to doubt of.
In 'Answer to some Considerations upon his Doctrine of Light and Colors', Philosophical Transactions (18 Nov 1672), 7, No. 88, 5100. The considerations were from Robert Hooke.
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On 17th July there came to us at Potsdam the eagerly-awaited news of the trial of the atomic bomb in the [New] Mexican desert. Success beyond all dreams crowded this sombre, magnificent venture of our American allies. The detailed reports ... could leave no doubt in the minds of the very few who were informed, that we were in the presence of a new factor in human affairs, and possessed of powers which were irresistible.
From Churchill's final review of the war and his first major speech as Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons (16 Aug 1945). In Robert Rhodes James, ed., Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 1897-1963 (1974), Vol. 1, 7210.
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One of the main causes of our artistic decline lies beyond doubt in the separation of art and science.
In Marco Treves, Artists on art, from the XIV to the XX century (1945), 437.
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Our mistake is that we doubt what is certain and want to establish what is uncertain. My maxim in the study of Nature is this: hold fast what is certain and keep a watch on what is uncertain.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 196.
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Personally I think there is no doubt that sub-atomic energy is available all around us, and that one day man will release and control its almost infinite power. We cannot prevent him from doing so and can only hope that he will not use it exclusively in blowing up his next door neighbour. (1936)
Concluding remark in Lecture (1936) on 'Forty Years of Atomic Theory', collected in Needham and Pagel (eds.) in Background to Modern Science: Ten Lectures at Cambridge Arranged by the History of Science Committee, (1938), 114.
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Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom.
In 'The Value of Philosophy', The Problems of Philosophy (1912), 157.
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Professor Cayley has since informed me that the theorem about whose origin I was in doubt, will be found in Schläfli’s De Eliminatione. This is not the first unconscious plagiarism I have been guilty of towards this eminent man whose friendship I am proud to claim. A more glaring case occurs in a note by me in the Comptes Rendus, on the twenty-seven straight lines of cubic surfaces, where I believe I have followed (like one walking in his sleep), down to the very nomenclature and notation, the substance of a portion of a paper inserted by Schlafli in the Mathematical Journal, which bears my name as one of the editors upon the face.
In Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (1864), 642.
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Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt.
…...
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Science is the outcome of being prepared to live without certainty and therefore a mark of maturity. It embraces doubt and loose ends.
Quoted in interview by Tim Adams, 'This much I know: A.C. Grayling', The Observer (4 Jul 2009).
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Scientists are not robotic inducing machines that infer structures of explanation only from regularities observed in natural phenomena (assuming, as I doubt, that such a style of reasoning could ever achieve success in principle). Scientists are human beings, immersed in culture, and struggling with all the curious tools of inference that mind permits ... Culture can potentiate as well as constrain–as Darwin’s translation of Adam Smith’s laissez-faire economic models into biology as the theory of natural selection. In any case, objective minds do not exist outside culture, so we must make the best of our ineluctable embedding.
…...
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Several times every day I observed the portions of the polyp with a magnifying glass. On the 4th December, that is to say on the ninth day after having cut the polyp, I seemed in the morning to be able to perceive, on the edges of the anterior end of the second part (the part that had neither head nor arms), three little points arising from those edges. They immediately made me think of the horns that serve as the legs and arms of the polyp. Nevertheless I did not want to decide at once that these were actually arms that were beginning to grow. Throughout the next day I continually observed these points: this excited me extremely, and awaited with impatience the moment when I should know with certainty what they were. At last, on the following day, they were so big that there was no longer any room for doubt that they were actually arms growing at the anterior extremity of this second part. The next day two more arms started to grow out, and a few days later three more. The second part thus had eight of them, and they were all in a short time as long as those of the first part, that is to say as long as those the polyp possessed before it was cut. I then no longer found any difference between the second part and a polyp that had never been cut. I had remarked the same thing about the first part since the day after the operation. When I observed them with the magnifying glass with all the attention of which I was capable, each of the two appeared perceptibly to be a complete polyp, and they performed all the functions that were known to me: they extended, contracted, and walked.
Mémoires, pour servir à l'histoire d'un genre de polyps d'eau douce à bras en forme de cornes (1744), 7-16. Trans. John R. Baker, in Abraham Trembley of Geneva: Scientist and Philosopher 1710-1784 (1952), 32.
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Sometimes I doubt whether there is divine justice; all parts of the human body get tired eventually—except the tongue. And I feel this is unjust.
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Students who have attended my [medical] lectures may remember that I try not only to teach them what we know, but also to realise how little this is: in every direction we seem to travel but a very short way before we are brought to a stop; our eyes are opened to see that our path is beset with doubts, and that even our best-made knowledge comes but too soon to an end.
In Notes on the Composition of Scientific Papers (1904), 3.
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That mathematics “do not cultivate the power of generalization,”; … will be admitted by no person of competent knowledge, except in a very qualified sense. The generalizations of mathematics, are, no doubt, a different thing from the generalizations of physical science; but in the difficulty of seizing them, and the mental tension they require, they are no contemptible preparation for the most arduous efforts of the scientific mind. Even the fundamental notions of the higher mathematics, from those of the differential calculus upwards are products of a very high abstraction. … To perceive the mathematical laws common to the results of many mathematical operations, even in so simple a case as that of the binomial theorem, involves a vigorous exercise of the same faculty which gave us Kepler’s laws, and rose through those laws to the theory of universal gravitation. Every process of what has been called Universal Geometry—the great creation of Descartes and his successors, in which a single train of reasoning solves whole classes of problems at once, and others common to large groups of them—is a practical lesson in the management of wide generalizations, and abstraction of the points of agreement from those of difference among objects of great and confusing diversity, to which the purely inductive sciences cannot furnish many superior. Even so elementary an operation as that of abstracting from the particular configuration of the triangles or other figures, and the relative situation of the particular lines or points, in the diagram which aids the apprehension of a common geometrical demonstration, is a very useful, and far from being always an easy, exercise of the faculty of generalization so strangely imagined to have no place or part in the processes of mathematics.
In An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1878), 612-13.
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The Author of nature has not given laws to the universe, which, like the institutions of men, carry in themselves the elements of their own destruction; he has not permitted in his works any symptom of infancy or of old age, or any sign by which we may estimate either their future or their past duration. He may put an end, as he no doubt gave a beginning, to the present system at some determinate period of time; but we may rest assured, that this great catastrophe will not be brought about by the laws now existing, and that it is not indicated by any thing which we perceive.
'Biographical Account of the Late Dr James Hutton, F.R.S. Edin.' (read 1803), Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1805), 5, 55.
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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 cause of rain is now, I consider, no longer an object of doubt. If two masses of air of unequal temperatures, by the ordinary currents of the winds, are intermixed, when saturated with vapour, a precipitation ensues. If the masses are under saturation, then less precipitation takes place, or none at all, according to the degree. Also, the warmer the air, the greater is the quantity of vapour precipitated in like circumstances. ... Hence the reason why rains are heavier in summer than in winter, and in warm countries than in cold.
Memoirs of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester (1819), 3, 507. Quoted in George Drysdale Dempsey and Daniel Kinnear Clark, On the Drainage of Lands, Towns, & Buildings (1887), 246.
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The discoveries of Newton have done more for England and for the race, than has been done by whole dynasties of British monarchs; and we doubt not that in the great mathematical birth of 1853, the Quaternions of Hamilton, there is as much real promise of benefit to mankind as in any event of Victoria’s reign.
In 'Imagination in Mathematics', North American Review, 85, 228.
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The discovery of the telephone has made us acquainted with many strange phenomena. It has enabled us, amongst other things, to establish beyond a doubt the fact that electric currents actually traverse the earth's crust. The theory that the earth acts as a great reservoir for electricity may be placed in the physicist's waste-paper basket, with phlogiston, the materiality of light, and other old-time hypotheses.
From Recent Progress in Telephony: British Association Report (1882). Excerpted in John Joseph Fahie, A History of Wireless Telegraphy (1902), 136.
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The doubter is a true man of science: he doubts only himself and his interpretations, but he believes in science.
In Fielding Hudson Garrison, An Introduction to the History of Medicine (1929), 14.
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The essential unity of ecclesiastical and secular institutions was lost during the 19th century, to the point of senseless hostility. Yet there was never any doubt as to the striving for culture. No one doubted the sacredness of the goal. It was the approach that was disputed.
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The explosive component in the contemporary scene is not the clamor of the masses but the self-righteous claims of a multitude of graduates from schools and universities. This army of scribes is clamoring for a society in which planning, regulation, and supervision are paramount and the prerogative of the educated. They hanker for the scribe’s golden age, for a return to something like the scribe-dominated societies of ancient Egypt, China, and Europe of the Middle Ages. There is little doubt that the present trend in the new and renovated countries toward social regimentation stems partly from the need to create adequate employment for a large number of scribes. And since the tempo of the production of the literate is continually increasing, the prospect is of ever-swelling bureaucracies.
In 'Scribe, Writer, and Rebel', The Ordeal of Change (1963), 109.
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The extracellular genesis of cells in animals seemed to me, ever since the publication of the cell theory [of Schwann], just as unlikely as the spontaneous generation of organisms. These doubts produced my observations on the multiplication of blood cells by division in bird and mammalian embryos and on the division of muscle bundles in frog larvae. Since then I have continued these observations in frog larvae, where it is possible to follow the history of tissues back to segmentation.
'Ueber extracellulare Eutstehung thierischer Zelleu und üüber Vermehrung derselben durch Theilung', Archiv für Anatomie, Physiologie und Wissenschaftliche Medicin (1852), 1, 49-50. Quoted in Erwin H. Ackerknecht, Rudolf Virchow: Doctor Statesman Anthropologist (1953), 83-4.
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The foundation of morality should not be made dependent on myth nor tied to any authority lest doubt about the myth or about the legitimacy of the authority imperil the foundation of sound judgment and action.
In a letter to a minister in Brooklyn, N.Y. (20 Nov 1950), third paragraph, as quoted in Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffmann (eds.), Albert Einstein: The Human Side (1979, 1981), 95.
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The general knowledge of our author [Leonhard Euler] was more extensive than could well be expected, in one who had pursued, with such unremitting ardor, mathematics and astronomy as his favorite studies. He had made a very considerable progress in medical, botanical, and chemical science. What was still more extraordinary, he was an excellent scholar, and possessed in a high degree what is generally called erudition. He had attentively read the most eminent writers of ancient Rome; the civil and literary history of all ages and all nations was familiar to him; and foreigners, who were only acquainted with his works, were astonished to find in the conversation of a man, whose long life seemed solely occupied in mathematical and physical researches and discoveries, such an extensive acquaintance with the most interesting branches of literature. In this respect, no doubt, he was much indebted to an uncommon memory, which seemed to retain every idea that was conveyed to it, either from reading or from meditation.
In Philosophical and Mathematical Dictionary (1815), 493-494.
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The great experimental principle, then, is doubt, that philosophic doubt which leaves to the mind its freedom and initiative, and from which the virtues most valuable to investigators in physiology and medicine are derived.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 37.
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The great mathematician, like the great poet or naturalist or great administrator, is born. My contention shall be that where the mathematic endowment is found, there will usually be found associated with it, as essential implications in it, other endowments in generous measure, and that the appeal of the science is to the whole mind, direct no doubt to the central powers of thought, but indirectly through sympathy of all, rousing, enlarging, developing, emancipating all, so that the faculties of will, of intellect and feeling learn to respond, each in its appropriate order and degree, like the parts of an orchestra to the “urge and ardor” of its leader and lord.
In Lectures on Science, Philosophy and Art (1908), 22.
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The history of civilization proves beyond doubt just how sterile the repeated attempts of metaphysics to guess at nature’s laws have been. Instead, there is every reason to believe that when the human intellect ignores reality and concentrates within, it can no longer explain the simplest inner workings of life’s machinery or of the world around us.
From Reglas y Consejos sobre Investigacíon Cientifica: Los tónicos de la voluntad. (1897), as translated by Neely and Larry W. Swanson, in Advice for a Young Investigator (1999), 2.
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The mind God is looking for in man is a doubting, questioning mind, not a dogmatic mind; dogmatic reasoning is wrong reasoning. Dogmatic reason ties a huge rock to a man’s foot and stops him forever from advancing.
From the play Galileo Galilei (2001) .
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The moon landing will, no doubt, be an epoch-making event—a phenomena of awe, unrestrained excitement and sensation. But, the most wondrous event would be if man could relinquish all the stains and defilements of the untamed mind and progress toward achieving the real mental peace and satisfaction when he reaches the moon.
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 efficient causes of progress seem to consist of a good education during youth whilst the brain is impressible, and of a high standard of excellence, inculcated by the ablest and best men, embodied in the laws, customs and traditions of the nation, and enforced by public opinion. It should, however, be borne in mind, that the enforcement of public opinion depends on our appreciation of the approbation and disapprobation of others; and this appreciation is founded on our sympathy, which it can hardly be doubted was originally developed through natural selection as one of the most important elements of the social instincts.
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The most distinctive characteristic which differentiates mathematics from the various branches of empirical science, and which accounts for its fame as the queen of the sciences, is no doubt the peculiar certainty and necessity of its results.
First sentence of '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, 18. Also Carl Hempel, 'Geometry and Empirical Science', collected in J.R. Newman (ed.), The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 3, 1635.
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The mystery of life is certainly the most persistent problem ever placed before the thought of man. There is no doubt that from the time humanity began to think it has occupied itself with the problem of its origin and its future which undoubtedly is the problem of life. The inability of science to solve it is absolute. This would be truly frightening were it not for faith.
Address (10 Sep 1934) to the International Congress of Electro-Radio Biology, Venice. In Associated Press, 'Life a Closed Book, Declares Marconi', New York Times (11 Sep 1934), 15.
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The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.
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The only truly secure system is one that is powered off, cast in a block of concrete and sealed in a lead-lined room with armed guards—and even then I have my doubts.
As quoted in epigraph to A.K. Dewdney, 'Computer Recreations: Of Worms, Viruses and Core War' by A. K. Dewdney in Scientific American (Mar 1989), 110. Also on the koth.org website.
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The power of the eye could not be extended further in the opened living animal, hence I had believed that this body of the blood breaks into the empty space, and is collected again by a gaping vessel and by the structure of the walls. The tortuous and diffused motion of the blood in divers directions, and its union at a determinate place offered a handle to this. But the dried lung of the frog made my belief dubious. This lung had, by chance, preserved the redness of the blood in (what afterwards proved to be) the smallest vessels, where by means of a more perfect lens, no more there met the eye the points forming the skin called Sagrino, but vessels mingled annularly. And, so great is the divarication of these vessels as they go out, here from a vein, there from an artery, that order is no longer preserved, but a network appears made up of the prolongations of both vessels. This network occupies not only the whole floor, but extends also to the walls, and is attached to the outgoing vessel, as I could see with greater difficulty but more abundantly in the oblong lung of a tortoise, which is similarly membranous and transparent. Here it was clear to sense that the blood flows away through the tortuous vessels, that it is not poured into spaces but always works through tubules, and is dispersed by the multiplex winding of the vessels.
De Pulmonibus (1661), trans. James Young, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine (1929-30), 23, 8.
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The pragmatist knows that doubt is an art which has to be acquired with difficulty.
In Charles S. Peirce, ‎Charles Hartshorne (ed.), ‎Paul Weiss (ed.), Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce (1931), Vol. 6, 498. Also published in combined volumes 5 & 6 (1974), 343.
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The pursuit of mathematical science makes its votary appear singularly indifferent to the ordinary interests and cares of men. Seeking eternal truths, and finding his pleasures in the realities of form and number, he has little interest in the disputes and contentions of the passing hour. His views on social and political questions partake of the grandeur of his favorite contemplations, and, while careful to throw his mite of influence on the side of right and truth, he is content to abide the workings of those general laws by which he doubts not that the fluctuations of human history are as unerringly guided as are the perturbations of the planetary hosts.
In 'Imagination in Mathematics', North American Review, 85, 227.
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The seeker after truth must, once in the course of his life, doubt everything, as far as is possible.
In Principles of Philosophy Part 1, 1, As translated by Cottingham, Stoothoff and Murdoch in Descartes: Selected Philosophical Writings (1988, 1999), 160.
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The skeptic does not mean him who doubts, but him who investigates or researches, as opposed to him who asserts and thinks that he has found. The one is the man who studies the problem and the other is the man who gives us a formula, correct or incorrect, as the solution of it.
'My Religion', Essays and Soliloquies, translated by John Ernest Crawford Flitch (1925), 56. In Robert Andrews, The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations (1993), 844:9.
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The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent full of doubt.
Essay, originally published in the Hearst chain of newspapers, 'The Triumph of Stupidity' (10 May 1933). Collected in Mortals and Others, Volume II: American Essays 1931-1935 (2014), 28.
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The virtue of a logical proof is not that it compels belief but that it suggests doubts.
In Foundations of Euclidean Geometry (1927), viii. This quote is often seen mis-attributed to Morris Kline, who merely quoted it without citation in his books. The idea was expressed earlier by Bertrand Russell as, “It is one of the chief merits of proofs that they instill a certain skepticism about the result proved.” See the Bertrand Russell Quotes page on this website.
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The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.
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There are two ways to slide easily through life; to believe everything or to doubt everything. Both ways save us from thinking.
Manhood of Humanity (1921), 4. Sometimes seen misquoted as 'slice through life.'
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There is no doubt that human survival will continue to depend more and more on human intellect and technology. It is idle to argue whether this is good or bad. The point of no return was passed long ago, before anyone knew it was happening.
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There is no permanence in doubt; it incites the mind to closer inquiry and experiment, from which, if rightly managed, certainty proceeds, and in this alone can man find thorough satisfaction.
In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 474:2.
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There must be no barriers to freedom of inquiry. There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any assertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors. ... Our political life is also predicated on openness. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it and that the only way to detect it is to be free to inquire. And we know that as long as men are free to ask what they must, free to say what they think, free to think what they will, freedom can never be lost, and science can never regress.
Life (10 Oct 1949), 136.
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There must be some bond of union between mass and the chemical elements; and as the mass of a substance is ultimately expressed (although not absolutely, but only relatively) in the atom, a functional dependence should exist and be discoverable between the individual properties of the elements and their atomic weights. But nothing, from mushrooms to a scientific dependence can be discovered without looking and trying. So I began to look about and write down the elements with their atomic weights and typical properties, analogous elements and like atomic weights on separate cards, and soon this convinced me that the properties of the elements are in periodic dependence upon their atomic weights; and although I had my doubts about some obscure points, yet I have never doubted the universality of this law, because it could not possibly be the result of chance.
Principles of Chemistry (1905), Vol. 2, 18.
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There was some doubt whether the heat shield had been damaged … This could have been a bad day all the way around if this had been the case.
From post-flight news conference at Cape Canaveral (24 Feb 1962). 'Transcript of Glenn's News Conference Relating His Experiences on Orbital Flight', New York Times (24 Feb 1962), 14.
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They tend to be suspicious, bristly, paranoid-type people with huge egos they push around like some elephantiasis victim with his distended testicles in a wheelbarrow terrified no doubt that some skulking ingrate of a clone student will sneak into his very brain and steal his genius work.
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Those who have dissected or inspected many [bodies] have at least learnt to doubt; while others who are ignorant of anatomy and do not take the trouble to attend it are in no doubt at all.
Letter xvi, Art. 25, as translated by Benjamin Alexander. Cited in Edward W. Adams, 'Founders of Modern Medicine II: Giovanni Battista Morgagni', Medical Library and Historical Journal (1903), Vol. 1, 276.
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To deny, to believe, and to doubt well are to a man what the race is to a horse.
In Pensées (1670), Section 25, No. 49. As translated in Blaise Pascal and W.F. Trotter (trans.), 'Thoughts', No. 260, collected in Charles W. Eliot (ed.), The Harvard Classics (1910), Vol. 48, 95. A similar translation is in W.H. Auden and L. Kronenberger (eds.) The Viking Book of Aphorisms (1966), 354. From the original French, “Nier, croire, et douter bien, sont à l’homme ce que le courir est au cheval.” in Ernest Havet (ed.), Pensées de Pascal (1892), 513-514.
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To have doubted one's own first principles is the mark of a civilized man.
'Ideals and Doubts,' Illinois Law Review (1915), 10. In Collected Legal Papers (1920), 307.

To teach doubt and Experiment Certainly was not what Christ meant.
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To teach vain Wits that Science little known,
T' admire Superior Sense, and doubt their own!
In An Essay on Criticism (1711), 13.
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True science teaches us to doubt and, in ignorance, to refrain.
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True science teaches, above all, to doubt and to be ignorant.
Tragic Sense of Life (1913), translated by John Ernest Crawford Flitch (1954), 93.
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Truth is something that we can attempt to doubt, and then perhaps, after much exertion, discover that part of the doubt is not justified.
Quoted in Bill Becker, 'Pioneer of the Atom', New York Times Sunday Magazine (20 Oct 1957), 52.
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Unavoidably, physics is usually expensive, and too many physicists find themselves with outdated or incomplete apparatus. The average factory worker in the United States has his productivity supported by a capital investment of $25,000 in machines and equipment. If physicists engaged in small science were as well supported as the average factory worker, they would share a total of ¾ billion dollars of depreciated equipment. I seriously doubt that they are that well supported.
In 'Physics and the APS in 1979', Physics Today (Apr 1980), 33, No. 4, 50.
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We are … led to a somewhat vague distinction between what we may call “hard” data and “soft” data. This distinction is a matter of degree, and must not be pressed; but if not taken too seriously it may help to make the situation clear. I mean by “hard” data those which resist the solvent influence of critical reflection, and by “soft” data those which, under the operation of this process, become to our minds more or less doubtful.
Our Knowledge of the External World (1925), 75.
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We cannot doubt of our existence while we doubt, and that this is the first knowledge we acquire when we philosophize in order. … The knowledge, I think, therefore I am, is the first and most certain that occurs to one who philosophizes orderly.
From the original Latin: “Non posse à nobis dubitari, quin existamus dum dubitamus; atque quod ordine philosophando cognoscimus. … Ac proinde hæc cognitio, ego cognito, ergo sum, est omnium | prima & certissima, quæ cuilibet ordine philosophanti occurant,” in Principia Philosophiæ (1644), Pars Prima, as collected in Charles Adam and Paul Tannery, Œuvres de Descartes (1905), Vol. 8, Proposition VII, 6-7. English version as given in John Veitch (trans.), The Method, Meditations, and Selections from the Principles of Descartes (1880), 195.
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We cannot doubt the existence of an ultimate reality. It is the universe forever masked. We are a part of it, and the masks figured by us are the universe observing and understanding itself from a human point of view.
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We do live in a conceptual trough that encourages such yearning for unknown and romanticized greener pastures of other times. The future doesn’t seem promising, if only because we can extrapolate some disquieting present trends in to further deterioration: pollution, nationalism, environmental destruction, and aluminum bats. Therefore, we tend to take refuge in a rose-colored past ... I do not doubt the salutary, even the essential, properties of this curiously adaptive human trait, but we must also record the down side. Legends of past golden ages become impediments when we try to negotiate our current dilemma.
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We do not doubt to assert, that air does not serve for the motion of the lungs, but rather to communicate something to the blood ... It is very likely that it is the fine nitrous particles, with which the air abounds, that are communicated to the blood through the lungs.
Tractatus duo. Quorum prior agit de respiratione: alter de rachitude (1668), 43. Quoted in Robert G. Frank Jr., Harvey and the Oxford Physiologists (1980), 228.
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We had a clear, unmistakable, specific objective. Although at first there was considerable doubt whether we could attain this objective, there was never any doubt about what it was. Consequently the people in responsible positions were able to tailor their every action to its accomplishment.
In And Now It Can Be Told: The Story Of The Manhattan Project (1962), 414.
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We sometimes are inclined to look into a science not our own as into a catalogue of results. In Faraday’s Diary, it becomes again what it really is, a campaign of mankind, balancing in any given moment, past experience, present speculation, and future experimentation, in a unique concoction of scepticism, faith, doubt, and expectation.
In 'The Scientific Grammar of Michael Faraday’s Diaries', Part I, 'The Classic of Science', A Classic and a Founder (1937), collected in Rosenstock-Huessy Papers (1981), Vol. 1, 1. The context is that Faraday, for “more than four decades. He was in the habit of describing each experiment and every observation inside and outside his laboratory, in full and accurate detail, on the very day they were made. Many of the entries discuss the consequences which he drew from what he observed. In other cases they outline the proposed course of research for the future.”
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Well, there’s no doubt about the fact that, that higher energy prices lead to greater conservation, greater energy efficiency, and they also, of course, play a useful role on the supply side.
John Snow
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When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself.
In Is Shakespeare Dead?: From My Autobiography (1909), 127-128.
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When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell, leap.
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When the number of factors coming into play in a phenomenological complex is too large, scientific method in most cases fails us. One need only think of the weather, in which case prediction even for a few days ahead is impossible. Nevertheless no one doubts that we are confronted with a causal connection whose causal components are in the main known to us.
Out of My Later Years (1995), 28.
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William James used to preach the “will to believe.” For my part, I should wish to preach the “will to doubt.” … What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite.
From Conway Memorial Lecture, South Place Institute, London (24 Mar 1922), printed as Free Thought and Official Propaganda (1922), 14. Collected in Sceptical Essays (1928, 2004), 129.
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With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind.
Letter to W. Graham (3 Jul 1881). In Francis Darwin (ed.) The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1959), 285. In Vinoth Ramachandra, Subverting Global Myths: Theology and the Public Issues Shaping our World (2008), 182-183.
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Without any doubt, the regularity which astronomy shows us in the movements of the comets takes place in all phenomena. The trajectory of a simple molecule of air or vapour is regulated in a manner as certain as that of the planetary orbits; the only difference between them is that which is contributed by our ignorance. Probability is relative in part to this ignorance, and in part to our knowledge.
Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1814), 5th edition (1825), trans. Andrew I. Dale (1995), 3.
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Without doubt one of the most characteristic features of mathematics in the last century is the systematic and universal use of the complex variable. Most of its great theories received invaluable aid from it, and many owe their very existence to it.
In 'History of Mathematics in the Nineteenth Century', Congress of Arts and Sciences (1905), Vol. 1, 474. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 115.
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Without the slightest doubt there is something through which material and spiritual energy hold togehter and are complementary. In the last analysis, somehow or other, there must be a single energy operating in the world. And the first idea that occurs to us is that the 'soul' must be as it were the focal point of transformation at which, from all the points of nature, the forces of bodies converge, to become interiorised and sublimated in beauty and truth.
In Teilhard de Chardin and Bernard Wall (trans.), The Phenomenon of Man (1959, 2008), 63. Originally published in French as Le Phénomene Humain (1955).
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Worry affects circulation, the heart, the glands, the whole nervous system, and profoundly affects the heart. I have never known a man who died from overwork, but many who died from doubt.
Leonard Louis Levinson, Bartlett's Unfamiliar Quotations (1972). Cited in Bill Swainson, Encarta Book of Quotations (2000), 624.
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Yet as I cast my eye over the whole course of science I behold instances of false science, even more pretentious and popular than that of Einstein gradually fading into ineptitude under the searchlight; and I have no doubt that there will arise a new generation who will look with a wonder and amazement, deeper than now accompany Einstein, at our galaxy of thinkers, men of science, popular critics, authoritative professors and witty dramatists, who have been satisfied to waive their common sense in view of Einstein's absurdities.
In Elizabeth Dilling, A "Who's Who" and Handbook of Radicalism for Patriots (1934), 49.
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Your goals, minus your doubts, equal your reality.
…...
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[about Fourier] It was, no doubt, partially because of his very disregard for rigor that he was able to take conceptual steps which were inherently impossible to men of more critical genius.
As quoted in P. Davis and R. Hersh The Mathematical Experience (1981).
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[Magic] enables man to carry out with confidence his important tasks, to maintain his poise and his mental integrity in fits of anger, in the throes of hate, of unrequited love, of despair and anxiety. The function of magic is to ritualize man's optimism, to enhance his faith in the victory of hope over fear. Magic expresses the greater value for man of confidence over doubt, of steadfastness over vacillation, of optimism over pessimism.
Magic, Science and Religion (1925), 90.
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[Richard Feynman] believed in the primacy of doubt, not as a blemish upon our ability to know but as the essence of knowing. The alternative to uncertainty is authority, against which science has fought for centuries.
In Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1992), 371-372.
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[Shawn Lawrence Otto describes the damaging] strategy used to undermine science in the interest of those industries where science has pointed out the dangers of their products to individuals and human life in general … [It was] used a generation ago by the tobacco industry… First they manufacture uncertainty by raising doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence. Then they launder information by using seemingly independent front organizations to promote their desired message and thereby confuse the public. And finally they recruit unscrupulous scientific spokespeople to misrepresent peer-reviewed scientific findings and cherry-pick facts in an attempt to persuade the media and the public that there is still serious debate among scientists on the issue at hand.
In 'Science Is Politics', Huffington Post (28 May 2014).
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[While in school, before university,] I, like almost all chemists I know, was also attracted by the smells and bangs that endowed chemistry with that slight but charismatic element of danger which is now banned from the classroom. I agree with those of us who feel that the wimpish chemistry training that schools are now forced to adopt is one possible reason that chemistry is no longer attracting as many talented and adventurous youngsters as it once did. If the decline in hands-on science education is not redressed, I doubt that we shall survive the 21st century.
Nobel laureate autobiography in Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures 1996 (1997), 191.
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~~[Misattributed]~~ A proof tells us where to concentrate our doubts.
Anonymous
Misattributed to Morris Kline. He did not originate this aphorism. He only quoted it as an example of sarcastic remarks by anonymous skeptical mathematicians. In Lecture (11 Apr 1958) to the 36th Annual Meeting of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Cleveland, Ohio. Published in Morris Kline, 'The Ancients Versus the Moderns, a New Battle of the Books', The Mathematics Teacher (Oct 1958), 51, No. 6, 423. Webmaster strongly believes this quote was not originated by Morris Kline, who only popularized it when it was printed in his later books. He merely quoted it as an aphorism already in circulation. In this work, it is one of a sentence listing three aphorisms, each separated with its own quotation marks, divided by semicolons. One of these Kline himself in fact attributes to “Anonymous” in a later work. Another error seen is the concatenation of two of these quotes. Thus “The virtue of a logical proof is not that it compels belief but that it suggests doubts. The proof tells us where to concentrate our doubts,” should be written as two separate aphorisms, as they were by Kline in the work cited here. The third aphorism, “Logic is the art of going wrong with confidence,” traces back to at least the 1920s. See quote beginning “Metaphysics may be…” on the Joseph Wood Krutch Quotes page of this website.
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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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