Generalization Quotes (31 quotes)
A mathematician who can only generalise is like a monkey who can only climb UP a tree. ... And a mathematician who can only specialise is like a monkey who can only climb DOWN a tree. In fact neither the up monkey nor the down monkey is a viable creature. A real monkey must find food and escape his enemies and so must be able to incessantly climb up and down. A real mathematician must be able to generalise and specialise. ... There is, I think, a moral for the teacher. A teacher of traditional mathematics is in danger of becoming a down monkey, and a teacher of modern mathematics an up monkey. The down teacher dishing out one routine problem after another may never get off the ground, never attain any general idea. and the up teacher dishing out one definition after the other may never climb down from his verbiage, may never get down to solid ground, to something of tangible interest for his pupils.
Although with the majority of those who study and practice in these capacities [engineers, builders, surveyors, geographers, navigators, hydrographers, astronomers], secondhand acquirements, trite formulas, and appropriate tables are sufficient for ordinary purposes, yet these trite formulas and familiar rules were originally or gradually deduced from the profound investigations of the most gifted minds, from the dawn of science to the present day. … The further developments of the science, with its possible applications to larger purposes of human utility and grander theoretical generalizations, is an achievement reserved for a few of the choicest spirits, touched from time to time by Heaven to these highest issues. The intellectual world is filled with latent and undiscovered truth as the material world is filled with latent electricity.
Analogy is a wonderful, useful and most important form of thinking, and biology is saturated with it. Nothing is worse than a horrible mass of undigested facts, and facts are indigestible unless there is some rhyme or reason to them. The physicist, with his facts, seeks reason; the biologist seeks something very much like rhyme, and rhyme is a kind of analogy.... This analogizing, this fine sweeping ability to see likenesses in the midst of differences is the great glory of biology, but biologists don't know it.... They have always been so fascinated and overawed by the superior prestige of exact physical science that they feel they have to imitate it.... In its central content, biology is not accurate thinking, but accurate observation and imaginative thinking, with great sweeping generalizations.
Both religion and natural science require a belief in God for their activities, to the former He is the starting point, and to the latter the goal of every thought process. To the former He is the foundation, to the latter, the crown of the edifice of every generalized world view.
During the first half of the present century we had an Alexander von Humboldt, who was able to scan the scientific knowledge of his time in its details, and to bring it within one vast generalization. At the present juncture, it is obviously very doubtful whether this task could be accomplished in a similar way, even by a mind with gifts so peculiarly suited for the purpose as Humboldt's was, and if all his time and work were devoted to the purpose.
I hope that in due time the chemists will justify their proceedings by some large generalisations deduced from the infinity of results which they have collected. For me I am left hopelessly behind and I will acknowledge to you that through my bad memory organic chemistry is to me a sealed book. Some of those here, [August] Hoffman for instance, consider all this however as scaffolding, which will disappear when the structure is built. I hope the structure will be worthy of the labour. I should expect a better and a quicker result from the study of the powers of matter, but then I have a predilection that way and am probably prejudiced in judgment.
I see with much pleasure that you are working on a large work on the integral Calculus [ ... ] The reconciliation of the methods which you are planning to make, serves to clarify them mutually, and what they have in common contains very often their true metaphysics; this is why that metaphysics is almost the last thing that one discovers. The spirit arrives at the results as if by instinct; it is only on reflecting upon the route that it and others have followed that it succeeds in generalising the methods and in discovering its metaphysics.
If it were possible for a metaphysician to be a golfer, he might perhaps occasionally notice that his ball, instead of moving forward in a vertical plane (like the generality of projectiles, such as brickbats and cricket balls), skewed away gradually to the right. If he did notice it, his methods would naturally lead him to content himself with his caddies’s remark-“ye heeled that yin,” or “Ye jist sliced it.” … But a scientific man is not to be put off with such flimsy verbiage as that. He must know more. What is “Heeling”, what is “slicing”, and why would either operation (if it could be thoroughly carried out) send a ball as if to cover point, thence to long slip, and finally behind back-stop? These, as Falstaff said, are “questions to be asked.”
In our day grand generalizations have been reached. The theory of the origin of species is but one of them. Another, of still wider grasp and more radical significance, is the doctrine of the Conservation of Energy, the ultimate philosophical issues of which are as yet but dimly seem-that doctrine which “binds nature fast in fate” to an extent not hitherto recognized, exacting from every antecedent its equivalent consequent, and bringing vital as well as physical phenomena under the dominion of that law of causal connexion which, so far as the human understanding has yet pierced, asserts itself everywhere in nature.
Men are more apt to be mistaken in their generalizations than in their particular observations.
Modern chemistry, with its far-reaching generalizations and hypotheses, is a fine example of how far the human mind can go in exploring the unknown beyond the limits of human senses.
Newton’s theory is the circle of generalization which includes all the others [as Kepler’s laws, Ptolemy’s theory, etc.];—the highest point of the inductive ascent;—the catastrophe of the philosophic drama to which Plato had prologized;— the point to which men’s minds had been journeying for two thousand years.
Not long ago the head of what should be a strictly scientific department in one of the major universities commented on the odd (and ominous) phenomenon that persons who can claim to be scientists on the basis of the technical training that won them the degree of Ph.D. are now found certifying the authenticity of the painted rag that is called the “Turin Shroud” or adducing “scientific” arguments to support hoaxes about the “paranormal” or an antiquated religiosity. “You can hire a scientist [sic],” he said, “to prove anything.” He did not adduce himself as proof of his generalization, but he did boast of his cleverness in confining his own research to areas in which the results would not perturb the Establishment or any vociferous gang of shyster-led fanatics. If such is indeed the status of science and scholarship in our darkling age, Send not to ask for whom the bell tolls.
One of the grandest generalizations formulated by modern biological science is that of the continuity of life; the protoplasmic activity within each living body now on earth has continued without cessation from the remote beginnings of life on our planet, and from that period until the present no single organism has ever arisen save in the form of a bit of living protoplasm detached from a pre-existing portion; the eternal flame of life once kindled upon this earth has passed from organism to organism, and is still, going on existing and propagating, incarnated within the myriad animal and plant forms of everyday life.
One-story intellects, two-story intellects, three-story intellects with skylights. All fact-collectors, who have no aim beyond their facts, are one-story men. Two-story men compare, reason, generalize, using the labors of the fact-collectors as well as their own. Three-story men idealize, imagine, predict; their best illumination comes from above, through the skylight. There are minds with large ground-floors, that can store an infinite amount of knowledge; some librarians, for instance, who know enough of books to help other people, without being able to make much other use of their knowledge, have intellects of this class. Your great working lawyer has two spacious stories; his mind is clear, because his mental floors are large, and he has room to arrange his thoughts so that lie can get at them,—facts below, principles above, and all in ordered series; poets are often narrow below, incapable of clear statement, and with small power of consecutive reasoning, but full of light, if sometimes rather bare of furniture, in the attics.
Pavlov’s data on the two fundamental antagonistic nervous processes—stimulation and inhibition—and his profound generalizations regarding them, in particular, that these processes are parts of a united whole, that they are in a state of constant conflict and constant transition of the one to the other, and his views on the dominant role they play in the formation of the higher nervous activity—all those belong to the most established natural—scientific validation of the Marxist dialectal method. They are in complete accord with the Leninist concepts on the role of the struggle between opposites in the evolution, the motion of matter.
Science quickens and cultivates directly the faculty of observation, which in very many persons lies almost dormant through life, the power of accurate and rapid generalizations, and the mental habit of method and arrangement; it accustoms young persons to trace the sequence of cause and effect; it familiarizes then with a kind of reasoning which interests them, and which they can promptly comprehend; and it is perhaps the best corrective for that indolence which is the vice of half-awakened minds, and which shrinks from any exertion that is not, like an effort of memory, merely mechanical.
Scientific discovery, or the formulation of scientific theory, starts in with the unvarnished and unembroidered evidence of the senses. It starts with simple observation—simple, unbiased, unprejudiced, naive, or innocent observation—and out of this sensory evidence, embodied in the form of simple propositions or declarations of fact, generalizations will grow up and take shape, almost as if some process of crystallization or condensation were taking place. Out of a disorderly array of facts, an orderly theory, an orderly general statement, will somehow emerge.
Scientific wealth tends to accumulate according to the law of compound interest. Every addition to knowledge of the properties of matter supplies the physical scientist with new instrumental means for discovering and interpreting phenomena of nature, which in their turn afford foundations of fresh generalisations, bringing gains of permanent value into the great storehouse of natural philosophy.
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.
The essence of knowledge is generalization. That fire can be produced by rubbing wood in a certain way is a knowledge derived by generalization from individual experiences; the statement means that rubbing wood in this way will always produce fire. The art of discovery is therefore the art of correct generalization. ... The separation of relevant from irrelevant factors is the beginning of knowledge.
The generalizations of science sweep on in ever-widening circles, and more aspiring flights, through a limitless creation.
The increasing technicality of the terminology employed is also a serious difficulty. It has become necessary to learn an extensive vocabulary before a book in even a limited department of science can be consulted with much profit. This change, of course, has its advantages for the initiated, in securing precision and concisement of statement; but it tends to narrow the field in which an investigator can labour, and it cannot fail to become, in the future, a serious impediment to wide inductive generalisations.
The scientist, if he is to be more than a plodding gatherer of bits of information, needs to exercise an active imagination. The scientists of the past whom we now recognize as great are those who were gifted with transcendental imaginative powers, and the part played by the imaginative faculty of his daily life is as least as important for the scientist as it is for the worker in any other field—much more important than for most. A good scientist thinks logically and accurately when conditions call for logical and accurate thinking—but so does any other good worker when he has a sufficient number of well-founded facts to serve as the basis for the accurate, logical induction of generalizations and the subsequent deduction of consequences.
The trick in discovering evolutionary laws is the same as it is in discovering laws of physics or chemistry—namely, finding the right level of generalization to make prediction possible. We do not try to find a law that says when and where explosions will occur. We content ourselves with saying that certain sorts of compounds are explosive under the right conditions, and we predict that explosions will occur whenever those conditions are realized.
The true method of discovery is like the flight of an aeroplane. It starts from the ground of particular observation; it makes a flight in the thin air of imaginative generalization; and it again lands for renewed observation rendered acute by rational interpretation.
This law [of gravitation] has been called “the greatest generalization achieved by the human mind”. … I am interested not so much in the human mind as in the marvel of a nature which can obey such an elegant and simple law as this law of gravitation. Therefore our main concentration will not be on how clever we are to have found it all out, but on how clever nature is to pay attention to it.
Truth travels down from the heights of philosophy to the humblest walks of life, and up from the simplest perceptions of an awakened intellect to the discoveries which almost change the face of the world. At every stage of its progress it is genial, luminous, creative. When first struck out by some distinguished and fortunate genius, it may address itself only to a few minds of kindred power. It exists then only in the highest forms of science; it corrects former systems, and authorizes new generalizations. Discussion, controversy begins; more truth is elicited, more errors exploded, more doubts cleared up, more phenomena drawn into the circle, unexpected connexions of kindred sciences are traced, and in each step of the progress, the number rapidly grows of those who are prepared to comprehend and carry on some branches of the investigation,— till, in the lapse of time, every order of intellect has been kindled, from that of the sublime discoverer to the practical machinist; and every department of knowledge been enlarged, from the most abstruse and transcendental theory to the daily arts of life.
We lay down a fundamental principle of generalization by abstraction: The existence of analogies between central features of various theories implies the existence of a general theory which underlies the particular theories and unifies them with respect to those central features.
What matters in science is the body of findings and generalizations available today: a time-defined cross-section of the process of scientific discovery. I see the advance of science as self-erasing in the sense that only those elements survive that have become part of the active body of knowledge.
When the greatest of American logicians, speaking of the powers that constitute the born geometrician, had named Conception, Imagination, and Generalization, he paused. Thereupon from one of the audience there came the challenge, “What of reason?” The instant response, not less just than brilliant, was: “Ratiocination—that is but the smooth pavement on which the chariot rolls.”