Human Intellect Quotes (32 quotes)
[The famous attack of Sir William Hamilton on the tendency of mathematical studies] affords the most express evidence of those fatal lacunae in the circle of his knowledge, which unfitted him for taking a comprehensive or even an accurate view of the processes of the human mind in the establishment of truth. If there is any pre-requisite which all must see to be indispensable in one who attempts to give laws to the human intellect, it is a thorough acquaintance with the modes by which human intellect has proceeded, in the case where, by universal acknowledgment, grounded on subsequent direct verification, it has succeeded in ascertaining the greatest number of important and recondite truths. This requisite Sir W. Hamilton had not, in any tolerable degree, fulfilled. Even of pure mathematics he apparently knew little but the rudiments. Of mathematics as applied to investigating the laws of physical nature; of the mode in which the properties of number, extension, and figure, are made instrumental to the ascertainment of truths other than arithmetical or geometrical—it is too much to say that he had even a superficial knowledge: there is not a line in his works which shows him to have had any knowledge at all.
Chemical research conducts to the knowledge of philosophical truth, and forms the mind to philosophical enlargement and accuracy of thought, more happily than almost any other species of investigation in which the human intellect can be employed.
I am coming more and more to the conviction that the necessity of our geometry cannot be demonstrated, at least neither by, nor for, the human intellect...geometry should be ranked, not with arithmetic, which is purely aprioristic, but with mechanics.
I am coming more and more to the conviction that the necessity of our geometry cannot be proved, at least neither by, nor for, the human intelligence … One would have to rank geometry not with arithmetic, which stands a priori, but approximately with mechanics.
I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can.
I could almost wish, at this point, that I were in the habit of expressing myself in theological terms, for if I were, I might be able to compress my entire thesis into a sentence. All knowledge of every variety (I might say) is in the mind of God—and the human intellect, even the best, in trying to pluck it forth can but “see through a glass, darkly.”
If a man will comprehend the richness and variety of the universe, and inspire his mind with a due measure of wonder and awe, he must contemplate the human intellect not only on its heights of genius but in its abysses of ineptitude...
In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the haughtiest and most mendacious minute of ‘world history’—yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die. ... There have been eternities when [human intellect] did not exist; and when it is done for again, nothing will have happened.
It is a matter of primary importance in the cultivation of those sciences in which truth is discoverable by the human intellect that the investigator should be free, independent, unshackled in his movement; that he should be allowed and enabled to fix his mind intently, nay, exclusively, on his special object, without the risk of being distracted every other minute in the process and progress of his inquiry by charges of temerariousness, or by warnings against extravagance or scandal.
It is a remarkable illustration of the ranging power of the human intellect that a principle first detected in connection with the clumsy puffing of the early steam engines should be found to apply to the whole world, and possibly, even to the whole cosmic universe.
It is not, indeed, strange that the Greeks and Romans should not have carried ... any ... experimental science, so far as it has been carried in our time; for the experimental sciences are generally in a state of progression. They were better understood in the seventeenth century than in the sixteenth, and in the eighteenth century than in the seventeenth. But this constant improvement, this natural growth of knowledge, will not altogether account for the immense superiority of the modern writers. The difference is a difference not in degree, but of kind. It is not merely that new principles have been discovered, but that new faculties seem to be exerted. It is not that at one time the human intellect should have made but small progress, and at another time have advanced far; but that at one time it should have been stationary, and at another time constantly proceeding. In taste and imagination, in the graces of style, in the arts of persuasion, in the magnificence of public works, the ancients were at least our equals. They reasoned as justly as ourselves on subjects which required pure demonstration.
It is true that M. Fourier believed that the main aim of mathematics was public utility and the explanation of natural phenomena; but a philosopher of his ability ought to have known that the sole aim of science is the honour of the human intellect, and that on this ground a problem in numbers is as important as a problem on the system of the world.
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!
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.
Modern civilization depends on science … James Smithson was well aware that knowledge should not be viewed as existing in isolated parts, but as a whole, each portion of which throws light on all the other, and that the tendency of all is to improve the human mind, and give it new sources of power and enjoyment … narrow minds think nothing of importance but their own favorite pursuit, but liberal views exclude no branch of science or literature, for they all contribute to sweeten, to adorn, and to embellish life … science is the pursuit above all which impresses us with the capacity of man for intellectual and moral progress and awakens the human intellect to aspiration for a higher condition of humanity.
[Joseph Henry was the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, named after its benefactor, James Smithson.]
[Joseph Henry was the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, named after its benefactor, James Smithson.]
Not only are there meaningless questions, but many of the problems with which the human intellect has tortured itself turn out to be only 'pseudo problems,' because they can be formulated only in terms of questions which are meaningless. Many of the traditional problems of philosophy, of religion, or of ethics, are of this character. Consider, for example, the problem of the freedom of the will. You maintain that you are free to take either the right- or the left-hand fork in the road. I defy you to set up a single objective criterion by which you can prove after you have made the turn that you might have made the other. The problem has no meaning in the sphere of objective activity; it only relates to my personal subjective feelings while making the decision.
Religion is the antithesis of science; science is competent to illuminate all the deep questions of existence, and does so in a manner that makes full use of, and respects the human intellect. I see neither need nor sign of any future reconciliation.
Science, above all, respects the power of the human intellect. Science is the apotheosis of the intellect and the consummation of the Renaissance. Science respects more deeply the potential of humanity than religion ever can.
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.
The history of science gives us the materials of an evolution of human intellect, so one could look in the history of the arts and of literature for the story of the evolution of human sensibility. The history of science is a history of ideas; just so the history of art could be considered as a history of man’s dreams.
The history of Science is not a mere record of isolated discoveries; it is a narrative of the conflict of two contending powers, the expansive force of the human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other.
The man who would discard the effort of the human intellect, and the science of Nature, from Religion, forgets … that the visible works of God are the principal medium by which he displays the attributes of his nature to intelligent beings—that the study and contemplation of these works employ the faculties of intelligences of a superior order.
The Modern Theory of Functions—that stateliest of all the pure creations of the human intellect.
The name of Sir Isaac Newton has by general consent been placed at the head of those great men who have been the ornaments of their species. … The philosopher [Laplace], indeed, to whom posterity will probably assign a place next to Newton, has characterized the Principia as pre-eminent above all the productions of human intellect.
The only solid piece of scientific truth about which I feel totally confident is that we are profoundly ignorant about nature. ... It is this sudden confrontation with the depth and scope of ignorance that represents the most significant contribution of twentieth-century science to the human intellect.
The synthetic theory of evolution has always seemed to me to be one of the most impressive achievements of the human intellect, a collective scientific product of indubitable validity.
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.
This leads us to ask for the reasons which call for this new theory of transmutation. The beginning of things must needs lie in obscurity, beyond the bounds of proof, though within those of conjecture or of analogical inference. Why not hold fast to the customary view, that all species were directly, instead of indirectly, created after their respective kinds, as we now behold them,--and that in a manner which, passing our comprehension, we intuitively refer to the supernatural? Why this continual striving after “the unattained and dim,”—these anxious endeavors, especially of late years, by naturalists and philosophers of various schools and different tendencies, to penetrate what one of them calls “the mystery of mysteries,” the origin of species? To this, in general, sufficient answer may be found in the activity of the human intellect, “the delirious yet divine desire to know,” stimulated as it has been by its own success in unveiling the laws and processes of inorganic Nature,—in the fact that the principal triumphs of our age in physical science have consisted in tracing connections where none were known before, in reducing heterogeneous phenomena to a common cause or origin, in a manner quite analogous to that of the reduction of supposed independently originated species to a common ultimate origin,—thus, and in various other ways, largely and legitimately extending the domain of secondary causes. Surely the scientific mind of an age which contemplates the solar system as evolved from a common, revolving, fluid mass,— which, through experimental research, has come to regard light, heat, electricity, magnetism, chemical affinity, and mechanical power as varieties or derivative and convertible forms of one force, instead of independent species,—which has brought the so-called elementary kinds of matter, such as the metals, into kindred groups, and raised the question, whether the members of each group may not be mere varieties of one species,—and which speculates steadily in the direction of the ultimate unity of matter, of a sort of prototype or simple element which may be to the ordinary species of matter what the protozoa or component cells of an organism are to the higher sorts of animals and plants,—the mind of such an age cannot be expected to let the old belief about species pass unquestioned.
— Asa Gray
Truth can only be found by the human intellect, exercised in perfect freedom, and trained to submit itself to the facts of nature. This is the essence of the Scientific Method, which is the exact opposite of the Theological Method. Science teaches men to think with absolute independence of all arbitrary authority, but to submit all their thoughts to the test of actual experiences of Nature. Christianity teaches them to think only according to its own foregone dogmatic conclusions, and to stick to these dogmatic conclusion in defiance of all possible experience.
Wallace’s error on human intellect arose from the in adequacy of his rigid selectionism, not from a failure to apply it. And his argument repays our study today, since its flaw persists as the weak link in many of the most ‘modern’ evolutionary speculations of our current literature. For Wallace’s rigid selectionism is much closer than Darwin’s pluralism to the attitude embodied in our favored theory today, which, ironically in this context, goes by the name of ‘Neo-Darwinism.’
We reverence ancient Greece as the cradle of western science. Here for the first time the world witnessed the miracle of a logical system which proceeded from step to step with such precision that every single one of its propositions was absolutely indubitable—I refer to Euclid’s geometry. This admirable triumph of reasoning gave the human intellect the necessary confidence in itself for its subsequent achievements. If Euclid failed to kindle your youthful enthusiasm, then you were not born to be a scientific thinker.
When we say “science” we can either mean any manipulation of the inventive and organizing power of the human intellect: or we can mean such an extremely different thing as the religion of science, the vulgarized derivative from this pure activity manipulated by a sort of priestcraft into a great religious and political weapon.