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

Doubtful Quotes (9 quotes)

A mathematician of the first rank, Laplace quickly revealed himself as only a mediocre administrator; from his first work we saw that we had been deceived. Laplace saw no question from its true point of view; he sought subtleties everywhere; had only doubtful ideas, and finally carried the spirit of the infinitely small into administration.
As quoted in E.T. Bell, Men of Mathematics (1937, 1965), 182. Without citation, except, “As it is often quoted as … Napoleon’s famous estimate of Laplace, of which he is reported to have delivered himself while he was a prisoner at St. Helena.” Laplace had a six-week tenure in the Ministry of the Interior.
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Few will deny that even in the first scientific instruction in mathematics the most rigorous method is to be given preference over all others. Especially will every teacher prefer a consistent proof to one which is based on fallacies or proceeds in a vicious circle, indeed it will be morally impossible for the teacher to present a proof of the latter kind consciously and thus in a sense deceive his pupils. Notwithstanding these objectionable so-called proofs, so far as the foundation and the development of the system is concerned, predominate in our textbooks to the present time. Perhaps it will be answered, that rigorous proof is found too difficult for the pupil’s power of comprehension. Should this be anywhere the case,—which would only indicate some defect in the plan or treatment of the whole,—the only remedy would be to merely state the theorem in a historic way, and forego a proof with the frank confession that no proof has been found which could be comprehended by the pupil; a remedy which is ever doubtful and should only be applied in the case of extreme necessity. But this remedy is to be preferred to a proof which is no proof, and is therefore either wholly unintelligible to the pupil, or deceives him with an appearance of knowledge which opens the door to all superficiality and lack of scientific method.
In 'Stücke aus dem Lehrbuche der Arithmetik', Werke, Bd. 2 (1904), 296.
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He seemed to approach the grave as an hyperbolic curve approaches a line, less directly as he got nearer, till it was doubtful if he would ever reach it at all.
In Far from the Madding Crowd (1874, 1909), Chap. 15, 117. In the 1874 edition, “—sheering off” were the original words, replaced by “less directly” by the 1909 edition.
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I consider it extremely doubtful whether the happiness of the human race has been enhanced by the technical and industrial developments that followed in the wake of rapidly progressing natural science.
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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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So-called extraordinary events always split into two extremes naturalists who have not witnessed them: those who believe blindly and those who do not believe at all. The latter have always in mind the story of the golden goose; if the facts lie slightly beyond the limits of their knowledge, they relegate them immediately to fables. The former have a secret taste for marvels because they seem to expand Nature; they use their imagination with pleasure to find explanations. To remain doubtful is given to naturalists who keep a middle path between the two extremes. They calmly examine facts; they refer to logic for help; they discuss probabilities; they do not scoff at anything, not even errors, because they serve at least the history of the human mind; finally, they report rather than judge; they rarely decide unless they have good evidence.
Quoted in Albert V. Carozzi, Histoire des sciences de la terre entre 1790 et 1815 vue à travers les documents inédités de la Societé de Physique et d'Histoire Naturelle de Genève, trans. Albert V. and Marguerite Carozzi. (1990), 175.
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The demand for certainty is one which is natural to man, but is nevertheless an intellectual vice. If you take your children for a picnic on a doubtful day, they will demand a dogmatic answer as to whether it will be fine or wet, and be disappointed in you when you cannot be sure.
From 'Philosophy For Laymen', collected in Unpopular Essays (1950, 1996), 38. This idea may be summarized as “What men want is not knowledge, but certainty” — a widely circulated aphorism attributed to Russell, but for which Webmaster has so far found no citation. (Perhaps it is a summary, never expressed in those exact words, but if you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster.)
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Why then be concerned about the conservation of wildlife when for all practical purposes we would be much better off if humans and their domestic animals and pets were the only living creatures on the face of the earth? There is no obvious and demolishing answer to this rather doubtful logic although in practice the destruction of all wild animals would certainly bring devastating changes to our existence on this planet as we know it today...The trouble is that everything in nature is completely interdependent. Tinker with one part of it and the repercussions ripple out in all directions...Wildlife - and that includes everything from microbes to blue whales and from a fungus to a redwood tree - has been so much part of life on the earth that we are inclined to take its continued existence for granted...Yet the wildlife of the world is disappearing, not because of a malicious and deliberate policy of slaughter and extermination, but simply because of a general and widespread ignorance and neglect.
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[E.H.] Moore was presenting a paper on a highly technical topic to a large gathering of faculty and graduate students from all parts of the country. When half way through he discovered what seemed to be an error (though probably no one else in the room observed it). He stopped and re-examined the doubtful step for several minutes and then, convinced of the error, he abruptly dismissed the meeting—to the astonishment of most of the audience. It was an evidence of intellectual courage as well as honesty and doubtless won for him the supreme admiration of every person in the group—an admiration which was in no wise diminished, but rather increased, when at a later meeting he announced that after all he had been able to prove the step to be correct.
In Obituary, 'Eliakim Hastings Moore', The American Mathematical Monthly (Apr 1933), 40, 191.
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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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