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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index G > Category: Generality

Generality Quotes (22 quotes)

...the source of all great mathematics is the special case, the concrete example. It is frequent in mathematics that every instance of a concept of seemingly generality is, in essence, the same as a small and concrete special case.
I Want to be a Mathematician: an Automathography in Three Parts (1985), 324.
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On se persuade mieux, pour l’ordinaire, par les raisons qu’on a soi-même trouvées, que par celles qui sont venues dans l’esprit des autres.
We are generally more effectually persuaded by reasons we have ourselves discovered than by those which have occurred to others.
Pensées (1670), Section 1, aphorism 18. In H. F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal's Pensées (1950), 11. Original French text in Pensées de Pascal: publiées dans leur texte authentique (1866), Vol. 1, 99.
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Another diversity of Methods is according to the subject or matter which is handled; for there is a great difference in delivery of the Mathematics, which are the most abstracted of knowledges, and Policy, which is the most immersed ... , yet we see how that opinion, besides the weakness of it, hath been of ill desert towards learning, as that which taketh the way to reduce learning to certain empty and barren generalities; being but the very husks and shells of sciences, all the kernel being forced out and expulsed with the torture and press of the method.
Advancement of Learning, Book 2. In James Spedding, The Works of Francis Bacon (1863), Vol. 6, 292-293 . Peter Pešić, explains that 'By Mathematics, he had in mind a sterile and rigid scheme of logical classifications, called dichotomies in his time,' inLabyrinth: A Search for the Hidden Meaning of Science (2001), 73.
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During the school period the student has been mentally bending over his desk; at the University he should stand up and look around. For this reason it is fatal if the first year at the University be frittered away in going over the old work in the old spirit. At school the boy painfully rises from the particular towards glimpses at general ideas; at the University he should start from general ideas and study their applications to concrete cases.
In The Aims of Education and Other Essays (1929), 26.
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During the time that [Karl] Landsteiner gave me an education in the field of imununology, I discovered that he and I were thinking about the serologic problem in very different ways. He would ask, What do these experiments force us to believe about the nature of the world? I would ask, What is the most. simple and general picture of the world that we can formulate that is not ruled by these experiments? I realized that medical and biological investigators were not attacking their problems the same way that theoretical physicists do, the way I had been in the habit of doing.
‘Molecular Disease’, Pfizer Spectrum (1958), 6:9, 234.
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Euclid avoids it [the treatment of the infinite]; in modern mathematics it is systematically introduced, for only then is generality obtained.
'Geometry', Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th edition. In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 130.
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I believe that natural history has lost much by the vague general treatment that is so common.
From 'Note to the Reader', introducing Wild Animals I Have Known (1898), 9. The author explains this is his motivation for writing true stories about individual animals as real characters.
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In the expressions we adopt to prescribe physical phenomena we necessarily hover between two extremes. We either have to choose a word which implies more than we can prove, or we have to use vague and general terms which hide the essential point, instead of bringing it out. The history of electrical theories furnishes a good example.
Opening Address to the Annual Meeting of the British Association by Prof. Arthur Schuster, in Nature (4 Aug 1892), 46, 325.
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It is told of Faraday that he refused to be called a physicist; he very much disliked the new name as being too special and particular and insisted on the old one, philosopher, in all its spacious generality: we may suppose that this was his way of saying that he had not over-ridden the limiting conditions of class only to submit to the limitation of a profession.
Commentary (Jun 1962), 33, 461-77. Cited by Sydney Ross in Nineteenth-Century Attitudes: Men of Science (1991), 11.
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Mathematics as an expression of the human mind reflects the active will, the contemplative reason, and the desire for aesthetic perfection. Its basic elements are logic and intuition, analysis and construction, generality and individuality. Though different traditions may emphasize different aspects, it is only the interplay of these antithetic forces and the struggle for their synthesis that constitute the life, usefulness, and supreme value of mathematical science.
As co-author with Herbert Robbins, in What Is Mathematics?: An Elementary Approach to Ideas and Methods (1941, 1996), x.
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Men in general are very slow to enter into what is reckoned a new thing; and there seems to be a very universal as well as great reluctance to undergo the drudgery of acquiring information that seems not to be absolutely necessary.
In The Commercial and Political Atlas: Representing, by Means of Stained Copper Charts, the Progress of the Commerce, Revenues, Expenditure and Debts of England During the Whole of the Eighteenth Century (1786, 1801), 29.
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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 w ill 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.
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Ordinarily logic is divided into the examination of ideas, judgments, arguments, and methods. The two latter are generally reduced to judgments, that is, arguments are reduced to apodictic judgments that such and such conclusions follow from such and such premises, and method is reduced to judgments that prescribe the procedure that should be followed in the search for truth.
Ampére expresses how arguments have a logical structure which he expected should be applied to relate scientific theories to experimental evidence. In James R. Hofmann, André-Marie Ampère (1996), 158. Cites Académie des Sciences Ampère Archives, École Normale lecture 15 notes, box 261.
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Science deals with judgments on which it is possible to obtain universal agreement. These judgments do not concern individual facts and events, but the invariable association of facts and events known as the laws of science. Agreement is secured by observation and experiment—impartial courts of appeal to which all men must submit if they wish to survive. The laws are grouped and explained by theories of ever increasing generality. The theories at first are ex post facto—merely plausible interpretations of existing bodies of data. However, they frequently lead to predictions that can be tested by experiments and observations in new fields, and, if the interpretations are verified, the theories are accepted as working hypotheses until they prove untenable. The essential requirements are agreement on the subject matter and the verification of predictions. These features insure a body of positive knowledge that can be transmitted from person to person, and that accumulates from generation to generation.
From manuscript on English Science in the Renaissance (1937), Edwin Hubble collection, Box 2, Huntington Library, San Marino, California. As cited by Norriss S. Hetherington in 'Philosophical Values and Observation in Edwin Hubble's Choice of a Model of the Universe', Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences (1982), 13, No. 1, 41. (Hetherington comments parenthetically that the references to court, judgment and appeal may be attributable to his prior experiences as a Rhodes Scholar reading Roman law at Oxford, and to a year's practice as an attorney in Louisville, Kentucky.)
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The art of doing mathematics consists in finding that special case which contains all the germs of generality.
Attributed, perhaps apocryphal. As given in Felix E. Browder, Norbert Wiener (1966), 65.
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The generality of men are so accustomed to judge of things by their senses that, because the air is indivisible, they ascribe but little to it, and think it but one remove from nothing.
In Mary Elvira Weeks, The Discovery of the Elements (1934), 29, citing Boyle, 'Memoirs for a General History of the Air', in Shaw's Abridgment of Boyle's works (1725), Vol. 3, 61, and Ramsay, The Gases of the Atmosphere (1915), 10.
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The person who did most to give to analysis the generality and symmetry which are now its pride, was also the person who made mechanics analytical; I mean Euler.
From History of the Inductive Sciences from the Earliest to the Present (1837), Vol. 2, 93.
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The traditional mathematics professor of the popular legend is absentminded. He usually appears in public with a lost umbrella in each hand. He prefers to face a blackboard and to turn his back on the class. He writes a, he says b, he means c, but it should be d. Some of his sayings are handed down from generation to generation:
“In order to solve this differential equation you look at it till a solution occurs to you.”
“This principle is so perfectly general that no particular application of it is possible.”
“Geometry is the science of correct reasoning on incorrect figures.”
“My method to overcome a difficulty is to go round it.”
“What is the difference between method and device? A method is a device which you used twice.”
In How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (2004), 208.
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The world is anxious to admire that apex and culmination of modern mathematics: a theorem so perfectly general that no particular application of it is feasible.
In 'A Story With a Moral', Mathematical Gazette (Jun 1973), 57, No. 400, 87.
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Time’s arrow of ‘just history’ marks each moment of time with a distinctive brand. But we cannot, in our quest to understand history, be satisfied only with a mark to recognize each moment and a guide to order events in temporal sequence. Uniqueness is the essence of history, but we also crave some underlying generality, some principles of order transcending the distinction of moments–lest we be driven mad by Borges’s vision of a new picture every two thousand pages in a book without end. We also need, in short, the immanence of time’s cycle.
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Whatever be the detail with which you cram your student, the chance of his meeting in after life exactly that detail is almost infinitesimal; and if he does meet it, he will probably have forgotten what you taught him about it. The really useful training yields a comprehension of a few general principles with a thorough grounding in the way they apply to a variety of concrete details. In subsequent practice the men will have forgotten your particular details; but they will remember by an unconscious common sense how to apply principles to immediate circumstances. Your learning is useless to you till you have lost your textbooks, burnt your lecture notes, and forgotten the minutiae which you learned by heart for the examination. What, in the way of detail, you continually require will stick in your memory as obvious facts like the sun and the moon; and what you casually require can be looked up in any work of reference. The function of a University is to enable you to shed details in favor of principles. When I speak of principles I am hardly even thinking of verbal formulations. A principle which has thoroughly soaked into you is rather a mental habit than a formal statement. It becomes the way the mind reacts to the appropriate stimulus in the form of illustrative circumstances. Nobody goes about with his knowledge clearly and consciously before him. Mental cultivation is nothing else than the satisfactory way in which the mind will function when it is poked up into activity.
In The Aims of Education and Other Essays (1929), 37
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When we have amassed a great store of such general facts, they become the objects of another and higher species of classification, and are themselves included in laws which, as they dispose of groups, not individuals have a far superior degree of generality, till at length, by continuing the process, we arrive at axioms of the highest degree of generality of which science is capable. This process is what we mean by induction.
In A Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (1830), 102.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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