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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index H > Category: Hypothesis

Hypothesis Quotes (296 quotes)
Hypotheses Quotes


... one of the main functions of an analogy or model is to suggest extensions of the theory by considering extensions of the analogy, since more is known about the analogy than is known about the subject matter of the theory itself … A collection of observable concepts in a purely formal hypothesis suggesting no analogy with anything would consequently not suggest either any directions for its own development.
'Operational Definition and Analogy in Physical Theories', British Journal for the Philosophy of Science (Feb 1952), 2, No. 8, 291.
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...great difficulties are felt at first and these cannot be overcome except by starting from experiments .. and then be conceiving certain hypotheses ... But even so, very much hard work remains to be done and one needs not only great perspicacity but often a degree of good fortune.
Letter to Tschirnhaus (1687). Quoted in Archana Srinivasan, Great Inventors (2007), 37-38.
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...the scientific cast of mind examines the world critically, as if many alternative worlds might exist, as if other things might be here which are not. Then we are forced to ask why what we see is present and not something else. Why are the Sun and moon and the planets spheres? Why not pyramids, or cubes, or dodecahedra? Why not irregular, jumbly shapes? Why so symmetrical, worlds? If you spend any time spinning hypotheses, checking to see whether they make sense, whether they conform to what else we know. Thinking of tests you can pose to substantiate or deflate hypotheses, you will find yourself doing science.
…...
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Hypotheses non fingo.
I frame no hypotheses.
From essay, 'General Scholium', appended to Andrew Motte (trans.), Principia (2nd ed., 1713). Also seen translated as: “I feign no hypotheses.” The latin word, “fingo” can also have the sense of devise, form, imagine, invent, contrive, conceive or fabricate. The respected science historian, I. Bernard Cohen gives an extensive discussion in 'The First English Version of Newton’s Hypotheses non fingo', Isis (Sep 1962), 53, No. 3, 379-388.

I cannot give any scientist of any age better advice than this: the intensity of the conviction that a hypothesis is true has no bearing on whether it is true or not. The importance of the strength of our conviction is only to provide a proportionally strong incentive to find out if the hypothesis will stand up to critical examination.
In Advice to a Young Scientist (1979), 39.
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La théorie est l’hypothèse vérifiée, après qu’elle a été soumise au contrôle du raisonnement et de la critique expérimentale. La meilleure théorie est celle qui a été vérifiée par le plus grand nombre de faits. Mais une théorie, pour rester bonne, doit toujours se modifier avec les progrès de la science et demeurer constamment soumise à la vérification et à la critique des faits nouveaux qui apparaissent.
A theory is a verified hypothesis, after it has been submitted to the control of reason and experimental criticism. The soundest theory is one that has been verified by the greatest number of facts. But to remain valid, a theory must be continually altered to keep pace with the progress of science and must be constantly resubmitted to verification and criticism as new facts appear.
Original work in French, Introduction à l'Étude de la Médecine Expérimentale (1865), 385. English translation by Henry Copley Green in An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1927, 1957), 220.
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Une idée anticipée ou une hypothèse est donc le point de départ nécessaire de tout raisonnement expérimental. Sans cela on ne saurait faire aucune investigation ni s’instruire ; on ne pourrait qu’entasser des observations stériles. Si l’on expérimentait sans idée préconçue, on irait à l’aventure; mais d’un autre côté, ainsi que nous l’avons dit ailleurs, si l’on observait avec des idées préconçues, on ferait de mauvaises observations.
An anticipative idea or an hypothesis is, then, the necessary starting point for all experimental reasoning. Without it, we could not make any investigation at all nor learn anything; we could only pile up sterile observations. If we experimented without a preconceived idea, we should move at random.
[Also seen translated as:] A hypothesis is … the obligatory starting point of all experimental reasoning. Without it no investigation would be possible, and one would learn nothing: one could only pile up barren observations. To experiment without a preconceived idea is to wander aimlessly.
Original work in French, Introduction à l'Étude de la Médecine Expérimentale (1865). English translation by Henry Copley Green in An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1927, 1957), 32. Alternate translation in Peter Medawar, 'Hypothesis and Imagination', collected in The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice and Other Classic Essays on Science (1974), 30.
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A ... hypothesis may be suggested, which supposes the word 'beginning' as applied by Moses in the first of the Book of Genesis, to express an undefined period of time which was antecedent to the last great change that affected the surface of the earth, and to the creation of its present animal and vegetable inhabitants; during which period a long series of operations and revolutions may have been going on, which, as they are wholly unconnected with the history of the human race, are passed over in silence by the sacred historian, whose only concern with them was largely to state, that the matter of the universe is not eternal and self-existent but was originally created by the power of the Almighty.
Vindiciae Geologicae (1820), 31-2.
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A biologist, if he wishes to know how many toes a cat has, does not "frame the hypothesis that the number of feline digital extremities is 4, or 5, or 6," he simply looks at a cat and counts. A social scientist prefers the more long-winded expression every time, because it gives an entirely spurious impression of scientificness to what he is doing.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 151.
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A fact is a simple statement that everyone believes. It is innocent, unless found guilty. A hypothesis is a novel suggestion that no one wants to believe. It is guilty until found effective.
Edward Teller, Wendy Teller, Wilson Talley, Conversations on the Dark Secrets of Physics (1991, 2002), Footnote, 69.
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A good theoretical physicist today might find it useful to have a wide range of physical viewpoints and mathematical expressions of the same theory (for example, of quantum electrodynamics) available to him. This may be asking too much of one man. Then new students should as a class have this. If every individual student follows the same current fashion in expressing and thinking about electrodynamics or field theory, then the variety of hypotheses being generated to understand strong interactions, say, is limited. Perhaps rightly so, for possibly the chance is high that the truth lies in the fashionable direction. But, on the off-chance that it is in another direction—a direction obvious from an unfashionable view of field theory—who will find it?
In his Nobel Prize Lecture (11 Dec 1965), 'The Development of the Space-Time View of Quantum Electrodynamics'. Collected in Stig Lundqvist, Nobel Lectures: Physics, 1963-1970 (1998), 177.
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A hypothesis may be simply defined as a guess. A scientific hypothesis is an intelligent guess.
In Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 114.
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A mind exclusively bent upon the idea of utility necessarily narrows the range of the imagination. For it is the imagination which pictures to the inner eye of the investigator the indefinitely extending sphere of the possible,—that region of hypothesis and explanation, of underlying cause and controlling law. The area of suggestion and experiment is thus pushed beyond the actual field of vision.
In 'The Paradox of Research', The North American Review (Sep 1908), 188, No. 634, 425.
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A science cannot be played with. If an hypothesis is advanced that obviously brings into direct sequence of cause and effect all the phenomena of human history, we must accept it, and if we accept it, we must teach it.
In The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma (1919), 131.
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A science cannot be played with. If an hypothesis is advanced that obviously brings into direct sequence of cause and effect all the phenomena of human history, we must accept it, and if we accept it, we must teach it.
In The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma (1919), 131.
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A theory is a supposition which we hope to be true, a hypothesis is a supposition which we expect to be useful; fictions belong to the realm of art; if made to intrude elsewhere, they become either make-believes or mistakes.
As quoted by William Ramsay, in 'Radium and Its Products', Harper’s Magazine (Dec 1904), 52. The first part, about suppositions, appears in a paper read by G. Johnson Stoney to the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia (3 Apr 1903), printed in 'On the Dependence of What Apparently Takes Place in Nature Upon What Actually Occurs in the Universe of Real Existences', Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society Held at Philadelphia for Promoting Useful Knowledge (Apr-May 1903) 42, No. 173, 107. If you know a primary source for the part on fictions and mistakes, please contact Webmaster.
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A thesis has to be presentable… but don't attach too much importance to it. If you do succeed in the sciences, you will do later on better things and then it will be of little moment. If you don’t succeed in the sciences, it doesn’t matter at all.
Quoted in Leidraad (1985), 2. (This is a periodical of the University of Leiden, Holland.)
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According to my derivative hypothesis, a change takes place first in the structure of the animal, and this, when sufficiently advanced, may lead to modifications of habits… . “Derivation” holds that every species changes, in time, by virtue of inherent tendencies thereto. “Natural Selection” holds that no such change can take place without the influence of altered external circumstances educing or selecting such change… . The hypothesis of “natural selection” totters on the extension of a conjectural condition, explanatory of extinction to the majority of organisms, and not known or observed to apply to the origin of any species.
In On the Anatomy of Vertebrates (1868), Vol. 3, 808.
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Admit for a moment, as a hypothesis, that the Creator had before his mind a projection of the whole life-history of the globe, commencing with any point which the geologist may imagine to have been a fit commencing point, and ending with some unimaginable acme in the indefinitely distant future. He determines to call this idea into actual existence, not at the supposed commencing point, but at some stage or other of its course. It is clear, then, that at the selected stage it appears, exactly as it would have appeared at that moment of its history, if all the preceding eras of its history had been real.
Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot (1857), 351.
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After a duration of a thousand years, the power of astrology broke down when, with Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo, the progress of astronomy overthrew the false hypothesis upon which the entire structure rested, namely the geocentric system of the universe. The fact that the earth revolves in space intervened to upset the complicated play of planetary influences, and the silent stars, related to the unfathomable depths of the sky, no longer made their prophetic voices audible to mankind. Celestial mechanics and spectrum analysis finally robbed them of their mysterious prestige.
Franz Cumont, translated by J.B. Baker, Astrology and Religion Among the Greeks and Romans (1912, 2007), 6.
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All I ever aim to do is to put the Development hypothesis in the same coach as the creation one. It will only be a question of who is to ride outside & who in after all.
Letter to Asa Gray (31 May 1859). Quoted in A. Hunter Dupree, Asa Gray: American Botanist, Friend of Darwin (1988), 265. Originally published as Asa Gray: 1810-1888 (1959).
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All interpretations made by a scientist are hypotheses, and all hypotheses are tentative. They must forever be tested and they must be revised if found to be unsatisfactory. Hence, a change of mind in a scientist, and particularly in a great scientist, is not only not a sign of weakness but rather evidence for continuing attention to the respective problem and an ability to test the hypothesis again and again.
The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution and Inheritance (1982), 831.
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All things are made of atoms—little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence ... there is an enormous amount of information about the world.
His suggestion that the most valuable information on scientific knowledge in a single sentence using the fewest words is to state the atomic hypothesis.
Six Easy Pieces (1995), 4.
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Although to penetrate into the intimate mysteries of nature and thence to learn the true causes of phenomena is not allowed to us, nevertheless it can happen that a certain fictive hypothesis may suffice for explaining many phenomena.
…...
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An author has always great difficulty in avoiding unnecessary and tedious detail on the one hand; while, on the other, he must notice such a number of facts as may convince a student, that he is not wandering in a wilderness of crude hypotheses or unsupported assumptions.
In A Geological Manual (1832), Preface, iii.
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Arthur Stanley Eddington quote: An electron is no more (and no less) hypothetical than a star. Nowadays we count electrons one b
An electron is no more (and no less) hypothetical than a star. Nowadays we count electrons one by one in a Geiger counter, as we count the stars one by one on a photographic plate.
Messenger Lectures (1934), New Pathways in Science (1935), 21.
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An experiment is never a failure solely because it fails to achieve predicted results. An experiment is a failure only when it also fails adequately to test the hypothesis in question, when the data it produces don’t prove anything one way or another.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values (1974), 102.
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An indispensable hypothesis, even though still far from being a guarantee of success, is however the pursuit of a specific aim, whose lighted beacon, even by initial failures, is not betrayed.
Nobel Lecture (2 Jun 1920), in Nobel Lectures in Physics, 1901-1921 (1998), 407.
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And for rejecting such a Medium, we have the Authority of those the oldest and most celebrated Philosophers of Greece and Phoenicia, who made a Vacuum, and Atoms, and the Gravity of Atoms, the first Principles of their Philosophy; tacitly attributing Gravity to some other Cause than dense Matter. Later Philosophers banish the Consideration of such a Cause out of natural Philosophy, feigning Hypotheses for explaining all things mechanically, and referring other Causes to Metaphysicks: Whereas the main Business of natural Philosophy is to argue from Phaenomena without feigning Hypotheses, and to deduce Causes from Effects, till we come to the very first Cause, which certainly is not mechanical; and not only to unfold the Mechanism of the World, but chiefly to resolve these and such like Questions. What is there in places almost empty of Matter, and whence is it that the Sun and Planets gravitate towards one another, without dense Matter between them? Whence is it that Nature doth nothing in vain; and whence arises all that Order and Beauty which we see in the World? ... does it not appear from phaenomena that there is a Being incorporeal, living, intelligent, omnipresent, who in infinite space, as it were in his Sensory, sees the things themselves intimately, and thoroughly perceives them, and comprehends them wholly by their immediate presence to himself.
In Opticks, (1704, 2nd. Ed. 1718), Book 3, Query 28, 343-5. Newton’s reference to “Nature does nothing in vain” recalls the axiom from Aristotle, which may be seen as “Natura nihil agit frustra” in the Aristotle Quotes on this web site.
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And from this such small difference of eight minutes [of arc] it is clear why Ptolemy, since he was working with bisection [of the linear eccentricity], accepted a fixed equant point… . For Ptolemy set out that he actually did not get below ten minutes [of arc], that is a sixth of a degree, in making observations. To us, on whom Divine benevolence has bestowed the most diligent of observers, Tycho Brahe, from whose observations this eight-minute error of Ptolemy’s in regard to Mars is deduced, it is fitting that we accept with grateful minds this gift from God, and both acknowledge and build upon it. So let us work upon it so as to at last track down the real form of celestial motions (these arguments giving support to our belief that the assumptions are incorrect). This is the path I shall, in my own way, strike out in what follows. For if I thought the eight minutes in [ecliptic] longitude were unimportant, I could make a sufficient correction (by bisecting the [linear] eccentricity) to the hypothesis found in Chapter 16. Now, because they could not be disregarded, these eight minutes alone will lead us along a path to the reform of the whole of Astronomy, and they are the matter for a great part of this work.
Astronomia Nova, New Astronomy (1609), ch. 19, 113-4, Johannes Kepler Gesammelte Werke (1937-), Vol. 3, 177-8.
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And no one has the right to say that no water-babies exist, till they have seen no water-babies existing; which is quite a different thing, mind, from not seeing water-babies; and a thing which nobody ever did, or perhaps will ever do. But surely [if one were caught] ... they would have put it into spirits, or into the Illustrated News, or perhaps cut it into two halves, poor dear little thing, and sent one to Professor Owen, and one to Professor Huxley, to see what they would each say about it.
The Water-babies (1886), 79-80.
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Any one who has studied the history of science knows that almost every great step therein has been made by the “anticipation of Nature,” that is, by the invention of hypotheses, which, though verifiable, often had very little foundation to start with; and, not unfrequently, in spite of a long career of usefulness, turned out to be wholly erroneous in the long run.
In 'The Progress of Science 1837-1887' (1887), Collected Essays (1901), Vol. 1, 62.
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Are not all Hypotheses erroneous, in which Light is supposed to consist in Pression or Motion, propagated through a fluid Medium? For in all these Hypotheses the Phaenomena of Light have been hitherto explain'd by supposing that they arise from new Modifications of the Rays; which is an erroneous Supposition.
Opticks, 2nd edition (1718), Book 3, Query 28, 337.
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As every circumstance relating to so capital a discovery as this (the greatest, perhaps, that has been made in the whole compass of philosophy, since the time of Sir Isaac Newton) cannot but give pleasure to all my readers, I shall endeavour to gratify them with the communication of a few particulars which I have from the best authority. The Doctor [Benjamin Franklin], after having published his method of verifying his hypothesis concerning the sameness of electricity with the matter lightning, was waiting for the erection of a spire in Philadelphia to carry his views into execution; not imagining that a pointed rod, of a moderate height, could answer the purpose; when it occurred to him, that, by means of a common kite, he could have a readier and better access to the regions of thunder than by any spire whatever. Preparing, therefore, a large silk handkerchief, and two cross sticks, of a proper length, on which to extend it, he took the opportunity of the first approaching thunder storm to take a walk into a field, in which there was a shed convenient for his purpose. But dreading the ridicule which too commonly attends unsuccessful attempts in science, he communicated his intended experiment to no body but his son, who assisted him in raising the kite.
The kite being raised, a considerable time elapsed before there was any appearance of its being electrified. One very promising cloud passed over it without any effect; when, at length, just as he was beginning to despair of his contrivance, he observed some loose threads of the hempen string to stand erect, and to avoid one another, just as if they had been suspended on a common conductor. Struck with this promising appearance, he inmmediately presented his knuckle to the key, and (let the reader judge of the exquisite pleasure he must have felt at that moment) the discovery was complete. He perceived a very evident electric spark. Others succeeded, even before the string was wet, so as to put the matter past all dispute, and when the rain had wetted the string, he collected electric fire very copiously. This happened in June 1752, a month after the electricians in France had verified the same theory, but before he had heard of any thing that they had done.
The History and Present State of Electricity, with Original Experiments (1767, 3rd ed. 1775), Vol. 1, 216-7.
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As in Mathematicks, so in Natural Philosophy, the Investigation of difficult Things by the Method of Analysis, ought ever to precede the Method of Composition. This Analysis consists in making Experiments and Observations, and in drawing general Conclusions from them by Induction, and admitting of no Objections against the Conclusions, but such as are taken from Experiments, or other certain Truths. For Hypotheses are not to be regarded in experimental Philosophy.
From Opticks, (1704, 2nd ed. 1718), Book 3, Query 31, 380.
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As science has supplanted its predecessors, so it may hereafter be superseded by some more perfect hypothesis, perhaps by some totally different way of looking at the phenomena—of registering the shadows on the screen—of which we in this generation can form no idea. The advance of knowledge is an infinite progression towards a goal that for ever recedes.
In The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (1890, 1900), Vol. 3, 460.
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Be suspicious of a theory if more and more hypotheses are needed to support it as new facts become available, or as new considerations are brought to bear.
Given as the authors’ preferred interpretation of Ockham’s Razor. With co-author Nalin Chandra Wickramasinghe, Evolution from Space (1981), 135.
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Being in love with the one parent and hating the other are among the essential constituents of the stock of psychical impulses which is formed at that time and which is of such importance in determining the symptoms of the later neurosis... This discovery is confirmed by a legend that has come down to us from classical antiquity: a legend whose profound and universal power to move can only be understood if the hypothesis I have put forward in regard to the psychology of children has an equally universal validity. What I have in mind is the legend of King Oedipus and Sophocles' drama which bears his name.
The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), In James Strachey (ed.) The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (1953), Vol. 4, 260-1.
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Beware of the problem of testing too many hypotheses; the more you torture the data, the more likely they are to confess, but confessions obtained under duress may not be admissible in the court of scientific opinion.
In Matthew H. Nitecki and Antoni Hoffman (eds.), 'Testing Hypotheses or Fitting Models? Another Look at Mass Extinctions', Neutral Models in Biology (1987), 148.
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But I should be very sorry if an interpretation founded on a most conjectural scientific hypothesis were to get fastened to the text in Genesis... The rate of change of scientific hypothesis is naturally much more rapid than that of Biblical interpretations, so that if an interpretation is founded on such an hypothesis, it may help to keep the hypothesis above ground long after it ought to be buried and forgotten.
Letter to Rev. C. J. Ellicott, Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol (22 Nov 1876). Quoted in Lewis Campbell and William Garnett, The Life of James Clerk Maxwell (1882), 394.
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Chance alone is at the source of every innovaton, of all creation in the biosphere. Pure chance, only chance, absolute but blind liberty is at the root of the prodigious edifice that is evolution... It today is the sole conceivable hypothesis, the only one that squares with observed and tested fact.
Stating life began by the chance collision of particles of nucleic acid in the “prebiotic soup.”
In Jacques Monod and Austryn Wainhouse (trans.), Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1971), 112-113.
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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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Chemistry and physics are experimental sciences; and those who are engaged in attempting to enlarge the boundaries of science by experiment are generally unwilling to publish speculations; for they have learned, by long experience, that it is unsafe to anticipate events. It is true, they must make certain theories and hypotheses. They must form some kind of mental picture of the relations between the phenomena which they are trying to investigate, else their experiments would be made at random, and without connection.
From 'Radium and Its Products', Harper’s Magazine (Dec 1904), 52.
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Chemists have made of phlogiston a vague principle which is not at all rigorously defined, and which, in consequence, adapts itself to all explanations in which it is wished it shall enter; sometimes it is free fire, sometimes it is fire combined with the earthy element; sometimes it passes through the pores of vessels, sometimes they are impenetrable to it; it explains both the causticity and non-causticity, transparency and opacity, colours and absence of colours. It is a veritable Proteus which changes its form every instant. It is time to conduct chemistry to a more rigorous mode of reasoning ... to distinguish fact and observation from what is systematic and hypothetical.
'Réflexions sur le phlogistique', Mémoires de l'Académie des Sciences, 1783, 505-38. Reprinted in Oeuvres de Lavoisier (1864), Vol. 2, 640, trans. M. P. Crosland.
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Coming to the question of life being found on other planets, Professor Haldane apologized for discoursing, as a mere biologist, on a subject on which we had been expecting a lecture by a physicist [J. D. Bernal]. He mentioned three hypotheses:
(a) That life had a supernatural origin,
(b) That it originated from inorganic materials, and (c) That life is a constituent of the Universe and can only arise from pre-existing life. The first hypothesis, he said, should be taken seriously, and he would proceed to do so. From the fact that there are 400,000 species of beetle on this planet, but only 8,000 species of mammals, he concluded that the Creator, if he exists, has a special preference for beetles, and so we might be more likely to meet them than any other type of animal on a planet which would support life.
In Mark Williamson, 'Haldane’s Special Preference', The Linnean, 1992, 8, 14.
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Do not say hypothesis, and even less theory: say way of thinking.
Aphorism 263 in Notebook J (1789-1793), as translated by R. J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 181.
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Don’t confuse hypothesis and theory. The former is a possible explanation; the latter, the correct one. The establishment of theory is the very purpose of science.
Martin H. Fischer, Howard Fabing (ed.) and Ray Marr (ed.), Fischerisms (1944), 7.
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Dr. Wallace, in his Darwinism, declares that he can find no ground for the existence of pure scientists, especially mathematicians, on the hypothesis of natural selection. If we put aside the fact that great power in theoretical science is correlated with other developments of increasing brain-activity, we may, I think, still account for the existence of pure scientists as Dr. Wallace would himself account for that of worker-bees. Their function may not fit them individually to survive in the struggle for existence, but they are a source of strength and efficiency to the society which produces them.
In Grammar of Science (1911), Part, 1, 221.
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Dream analysis stands or falls with [the hypothesis of the unconscious]. Without it the dream appears to be merely a freak of nature, a meaningless conglomerate of memory-fragments left over from the happenings of the day.
Carl Jung
Dream Analysis in its Practical Application (1930), 1-2.
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During the last two centuries and a half, physical knowledge has been gradually made to rest upon a basis which it had not before. It has become mathematical. The question now is, not whether this or that hypothesis is better or worse to the pure thought, but whether it accords with observed phenomena in those consequences which can be shown necessarily to follow from it, if it be true
In Augustus De Morgan and Sophia Elizabeth De Morgan (ed.), A Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 2.
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Earlier theories … were based on the hypothesis that all the matter in the universe was created in one big bang at a particular time in the remote past. [Coining the “big bang” expression.]
From microfilmed Speaker's Copy of a radio script held at the BBC Written Archive Centre, for Hoyle's radio talk on the BBC Third Programme (28 Mar 1949). The date and time of the broadcast, 6:30pm, are given in that week’s Radio Times. The quote, with these references given in footnotes, in Simon Mitton, Fred Hoyle: A Life in Science (2011), 127-128 and 332. The text of the talk, the first printed use of the “big bang” expression, in the BBC’s The Listener magazine (7 Apr 1949), Vol.41, 568.
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Even mistaken hypotheses and theories are of use in leading to discoveries. This remark is true in all the sciences. The alchemists founded chemistry by pursuing chimerical problems and theories which are false. In physical science, which is more advanced than biology, we might still cite men of science who make great discoveries by relying on false theories. It seems, indeed, a necessary weakness of our mind to be able to reach truth only across a multitude of errors and obstacles.
An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865, translation 1927, 1957), 170.
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Every discovery, every enlargement of the understanding, begins as an imaginative preconception of what the truth might be. The imaginative preconception—a “hypothesis”—arises by a process as easy or as difficult to understand as any other creative act of mind; it is a brainwave, an inspired guess, a product of a blaze of insight. It comes anyway from within and cannot be achieved by the exercise of any known calculus of discovery.
In Advice to a Young Scientist (1979), 84.
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Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination. What are now working conceptions, employed as a matter of course because they have withstood the tests of experiment and have emerged triumphant, were once speculative hypotheses.
'The Copernican Revolution', in The Quest for Certainty: A Study of the Relation of Knowledge and Action (1929), 294. Collected in John Dewey. Volume 4: The Later Works, 1925-1953: 1929 The Quest for Certainty (1984), 247. The first sentence is used as the motto of The Bronx High School of Science, New York.
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Experimental investigation, to borrow a phrase employed by Kepler respecting the testing of hypotheses, is “a very great thief of time.” Sometimes it costs many days to determine a fact that can be stated in a line.
In preface to Scientific Memoirs (1878), xi.
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Extremely hazardous is the desire to explain everything, and to supply whatever appears a gap in history—for in this propensity lies the first cause and germ of all those violent and arbitrary hypotheses which perplex and pervert the science of history far more than the open avowal of our ignorance, or the uncertainty of our knowledge: hypotheses which give an oblique direction, or an exaggerated and false extension, to a view of the subject originally not incorrect.
In Friedrich von Schlegel and James Burton Robertson (trans.), The Philosophy of History (1835), 12.
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For every fact there is an infinity of hypotheses. The more you look the more you see.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974), 171.
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For it is the duty of an astronomer to compose the history of the celestial motions or hypotheses about them. Since he cannot in any certain way attain to the true causes, he will adopt whatever suppositions enable the motions to be computed correctly from the principles of geometry for the future as well as for the past.
From unauthorized preface Osiander anonymously added when he was entrusted with arranging the printing of the original work by Copernicus. As translated in Nicolaus Copernicus and Jerzy Dobrzycki (ed.), Nicholas Copernicus on the Revolutions (1978), xvi.
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For it is too bad that there are so few who seek the truth and so few who do not follow a mistaken method in philosophy. This is not, however, the place to lament the misery of our century, but to rejoice with you over such beautiful ideas for proving the truth. So I add only, and I promise, that I shall read your book at leisure; for I am certain that I shall find the noblest things in it. And this I shall do the more gladly, because I accepted the view of Copernicus many years ago, and from this standpoint I have discovered from their origins many natural phenomena, which doubtless cannot be explained on the basis of the more commonly accepted hypothesis.
Letter (4 Aug 1597) to Kepler, expressing thanks and interest in the book Kepler sent him. As quoted in translation in Jackson J. Spielvogel, Western Civilization: Alternate Volume: Since 1300 (2010), Vol. 2, 494.
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For it is too bad that there are so few who seek the truth and so few who do not follow a mistaken method in philosophy. This is not, however, the place to lament the misery of our century, but to rejoice with you over such beautiful ideas for proving the truth. So I add only, and I promise, that I shall read your book at leisure; for I am certain that I shall find the noblest things in it. And this I shall do the more gladly, because I accepted the view of Copernicus many years ago, and from this standpoint I have discovered from their origins many natural phenomena, which doubtless cannot be explained on the basis of the more commonly accepted hypothesis.
In Letter to Johannes Kepler. As quoted in The Portable Renaissance Reader (1968), 597.
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For the Members of the Assembly having before their eyes so many fatal Instances of the errors and falshoods, in which the greatest part of mankind has so long wandred, because they rely'd upon the strength of humane Reason alone, have begun anew to correct all Hypotheses by sense, as Seamen do their dead Reckonings by Cœlestial Observations; and to this purpose it has been their principal indeavour to enlarge and strengthen the Senses by Medicine, and by such outward Instruments as are proper for their particular works.
Micrographia, or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Inquiries thereupon (1665), preface sig.
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Forc’d by reflective Reason, I confess,
Human science is uncertain guess.
From poem, 'Solomon', Collected in Samuel Johnson (ed.), The Works of the English Poets: Volume the Thirty-First: The Poems of Prior: Volume II (1760), 126.
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From the standpoint of observation, then, we must regard it as a highly probable hypothesis that the beginnings of the mental life date from as far back as the beginnings of life at large.
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Germs of a theory, though in their present condition they are vague and formless … may be said to resemble stones in the quarry, rough and unhewn, but which may some time become corner-stones, columns, and entablatures in the future edifice.
In Report on the Geology of the High Plateaus of Utah (1880), 114.
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Given any rule, however “fundamental” or “necessary” for science, there are always circumstances when it is advisable not only to ignore the rule, but to adopt its opposite. For example, there are circumstances when it is advisable to introduce, elaborate and defend ad hoc hypotheses, or hypotheses which contradict well-established and generally accepted experimental results, or hypotheses whose content is smaller than the content of the existing and empirically adequate alternative, or self-inconsistent hypotheses, and so on.
Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge (1975, 1993), 14-15.
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Half a century ago Oswald (1910) distinguished classicists and romanticists among the scientific investigators: the former being inclined to design schemes and to use consistently the deductions from working hypotheses; the latter being more fit for intuitive discoveries of functional relations between phenomena and therefore more able to open up new fields of study. Examples of both character types are Werner and Hutton. Werner was a real classicist. At the end of the eighteenth century he postulated the theory of “neptunism,” according to which all rocks including granites, were deposited in primeval seas. It was an artificial scheme, but, as a classification system, it worked quite satisfactorily at the time. Hutton, his contemporary and opponent, was more a romanticist. His concept of “plutonism” supposed continually recurrent circuits of matter, which like gigantic paddle wheels raise material from various depths of the earth and carry it off again. This is a very flexible system which opens the mind to accept the possible occurrence in the course of time of a great variety of interrelated plutonic and tectonic processes.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 456-7.
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Happily, facts have become so multiplied, that Geology is daily emerging from that state when an hypothesis, provided it were brilliant and ingenious, was sure of advocates and temporary success, when when it sinned against the laws of physics and the facts themselves.
In Geological Manual (1832), Preface, iv.
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History, human or geological, represents our hypothesis, couched in terms of past events, devised to explain our present-day observations.
'Critique of the Principle of Uniformity', in C. C. Albritton (ed.), Uniformity and Simplicity (1967), 30.
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Hitherto, no rival hypothesis has been proposed as a substitute for the doctrine of transmutation; for 'independent creation,' as it is often termed, or the direct intervention of the Supreme Cause, must simply be considered as an avowal that we deem the question to lie beyond the domain of science.
The Antiquity of Man (1863), 421.
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How happy … does the sagacious investigator of nature seem, whose fancy is ever employed in the invention of hypotheses, and his reason in the support of them!
From Letter (29 Sep 1783) to Rev. William Unwin, collected in William Cowper and William Hayley (ed.), The Life, and Posthumous Writings, of William Cowper (1803), Vol. 3, 196.
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Hypotheses are cradle-songs by which the teacher lulls his scholars to sleep. The thoughtful and honest observer is always learning more and more of his limitations; he sees that the further knowledge spreads, the more numerous are the problems that make their appearance.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 195.
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Hypotheses are the scaffolds which are erected in front of a building and removed when the building is completed. They are indispensable to the worker; but the worker must not mistake the scaffolding for the building.
In Maxims and Reflections (1893), as quoted in Philipp Frank, Modern Science and its Philosophy (1949), 62.
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Hypotheses like professors, when they are seen not to work any longer in the laboratory, should disappear.
Sir Harold Hartley, 'Henry Armstrong', in Studies in the History of Chemistry (1971), 199.
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Hypotheses may be useful, though involving much that is superfluous, and even erroneous: for they may supply the true bond of connexion of the facts; and the superfluity and error may afterwards be pared away.
Aphorism 11, 'Aphorisms Concerning Science', The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1840), Vol. 1, xxxvi.
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Hypothesis is a tool which can cause trouble if not used properly. We must be ready to abandon our hypothesis as soon as it is shown to be inconsistent with the facts.
In The Art of Scientific Investigation (1950,1957), 66.
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Hypothesis is the most important mental technique of the investigator, and its main function is to suggest new experiments or new observations. Indeed, most experiments and many observations are carried out with the deliberate object of testing an hypothesis. Another function is to help one see the significance of an object or event that otherwise would mean nothing. For instance, a mind prepared by the hypothesis of evolution would make many more significant observations on a field excursion than one not so prepared. Hypotheses should be used as tools to uncover new facts rather than as ends in themselves.
The Art of Scientific Investigation (1953), 46.
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I always love geology. In winter, particularly, it is pleasant to listen to theories about the great mountains one visited in the summer; or about the Flood or volcanoes; about great catastrophes or about blisters; above all about fossils … Everywhere there are hypotheses, but nowhere truths; many workmen, but no experts; priests, but no God. In these circumstances each man can bring his hypothesis like a candle to a burning altar, and on seeing his candle lit declare ‘Smoke for smoke, sir, mine is better than yours’. It is precisely for this reason that I love geology.
In Nouvelles Genevoises (1910), 306. First edition, 1841.
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I am afraid all we can do is to accept the paradox and try to accommodate ourselves to it, as we have done to so many paradoxes lately in modern physical theories. We shall have to get accustomed to the idea that the change of the quantity R, commonly called the 'radius of the universe', and the evolutionary changes of stars and stellar systems are two different processes, going on side by side without any apparent connection between them. After all the 'universe' is an hypothesis, like the atom, and must be allowed the freedom to have properties and to do things which would be contradictory and impossible for a finite material structure.
Kosmos (1932), 133.
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I am now convinced that we have recently become possessed of experimental evidence of the discrete or grained nature of matter, which the atomic hypothesis sought in vain for hundreds and thousands of years. The isolation and counting of gaseous ions, on the one hand, which have crowned with success the long and brilliant researches of J.J. Thomson, and, on the other, agreement of the Brownian movement with the requirements of the kinetic hypothesis, established by many investigators and most conclusively by J. Perrin, justify the most cautious scientist in now speaking of the experimental proof of the atomic nature of matter, The atomic hypothesis is thus raised to the position of a scientifically well-founded theory, and can claim a place in a text-book intended for use as an introduction to the present state of our knowledge of General Chemistry.
In Grundriss der allgemeinen Chemie (4th ed., 1909), Preface, as cited by Erwin N. Hiebert and Hans-Gunther Korber in article on Ostwald in Charles Coulston Gillespie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography Supplement 1, Vol 15-16, 464.
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I am pleased, however, to see the efforts of hypothetical speculation, because by the collisions of different hypotheses, truth may be elicited and science advanced in the end.
Letter (5 Sep 1822) to Mr. George F. Hopkins. Collected in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Correspondence (1854), Vol. 7, 260.
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I assume that each organism which the Creator educed was stamped with an indelible specific character, which made it what it was, and distinguished it from everything else, however near or like. I assume that such character has been, and is, indelible and immutable; that the characters which distinguish species now, were as definite at the first instant of their creation as now and are as distinct now as they were then. If any choose to maintain... that species were gradually bought to their present maturity from humbler forms... he is welcome to his hypothesis, but I have nothing to do with it.
Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot (1857), 111.
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I do not profess to be able thus to account for all the [planetary] motions at the same time; but I shall show that each by itself is well explained by its proper hypothesis.
Ptolemy
(c. 100 AD). From introduction to 'Hypotheses', translated into French by Abbé N. Halma, Hypothèses et époques des planètes de Cl. Ptolémée et Hypotyposes de Proclus Diadochus (1820), 41-42. As quoted, in English, in John Louis Emil Dreyer History of the Planetary Systems from Thales to Kepler (1906), 201. In French, “Je ne prétends pas pouvoir ainsi rendre raison de tous ces mouvemens à la fois; mais je veux montrer que chacun à part s'explique très-bien par son hypothèse propre.”
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I feel that, in a sense, the writer knows nothing any longer. He has no moral stance. He offers the reader the contents of his own head, a set of options and imaginative alternatives. His role is that of a scientist, whether on safari or in his laboratory, faced with an unknown terrain or subject. All he can do is to devise various hypotheses and test them against the facts.
Crash (1973, 1995), Introduction. In Barry Atkins, More Than A Game: the Computer Game as a Fictional Form (2003), 144.
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I have always felt that astronomical hypotheses should not be regarded as articles of faith, but should only serve as a framework for astronomical calculations, so that it does not matter whether they were right or wrong, as long as the phenomena can be characterized precisely. For who could possibly be certain as to whether the uneven movement of the sun, if we follow the hypotheses of Ptolemy, can be explained by assuming an epicycle or eccentricity. Both assumptions are plausible. That’s why I would consider it quite desirable for you to tell something about that in the preface. In this way you would appease the Aristotelians and the theologians, whose opposition you dread.
From surviving fragment of a Letter (20 Apr 1541) answering a query from Copernicus as to whether he should publish his book (De Revolutionibus). From the German in Leopold Friedrich Prowe, Nicolaus Coppernicus (1883), Vol. 1, Part 2, 521-522. Translated from Prowe by Webmaster using web resources. Original German: “Hypothesen nicht als Glaubens-Artikel zu betrachten seien, sondern nur als Grundlage für die astronomischen Rechnungen zu dienen hätten, so dass es nicht darauf ankomme, ob sie richtig oder falsch seien, wofern sich nur die Erscheinungen dadurch genau bestimmen liessen. »Denn wer dürfte uns wohl darüber sichere Auskunft geben, ob die ungleiche Bewegung der Sonne, wenn wir den Hypothesen des Ptolemaeus folgen, durch Annahme eines Epicykels oder der Ekcentricität zu erklären sei. Beide Annahmen sind gestattet. Daher würde ich—so schliesst Osiander—es für recht wünschenswerth erachten, wenn Du hierüber in der Vorrede etwas beibrächtest. Auf diese Weise würdest Du die Aristoteliker und die Theologen milder stimmen, von denen Du befürchtest, dass sie heftigen Widerspruch kundthun werden.«” Compare Latin text, from Johannes Kepler, 'Apologia Tychonia', Astronomi Opera Omnia (1858), Vol. 1, 246: “De hypothesibus ego sic sensi semper, non esse articulos fidei, sed fundamenta calculi ita ut, etiamsi falsae sint, modo motuum φαινομενα exacte exhibeant, nihil referat; quis enim nos certiores reddet, an Solis inaequalis motus nomine epicycli an nomine eccentricitatis contingat, si Ptolemaei hypotheses sequamur, cum id possit utrumque. Quare plausibile fore videretur, si hac de re in praefatione nonnihil attingeres. Sic enim placidiores redderes peripatheticos et theologos, quos contradicturos metuis.”
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I have not been able to discover the cause of those properties of gravity from phenomena, and I frame no hypotheses; for whatever is not deduced from the phenomena is to be called a hypothesis, and hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, whether of occult qualities or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy.
Principia. In Isaac Newton, Andrew Motte and N. W. Chittenden, Newton’s Principia (1847), 506-507.
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I have steadily endeavored to keep my mind free so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (and I cannot resist forming one on every subject) as soon as the facts are shown to be opposed to it.
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I have very often reflected on what it is that really distinguishes the great genius from the common crowd. Here are a few observations I have made. The common individual always conforms to the prevailing opinion and the prevailing fashion; he regards the State in which everything now exists as the only possible one and passively accepts it ail. It does not occur to him that everything, from the shape of the furniture up to the subtlest hypothesis, is decided by the great council of mankind of which he is a member. He wears thin-soled shoes even though the sharp stones of the Street hurt his feet, he allows fashion to dictate to him that the buckles of his shoes must extend as far as the toes even though that means the shoe is often hard to get on. He does not reflect that the form of the shoe depends as much upon him as it does upon the fool who first wore thin shoes on a cracked pavement. To the great genius it always occurs to ask: Could this too not be false! He never gives his vote without first reflecting.
Aphorism 24 in Notebook C (1772-1773), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 36.
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I think that we shall have to get accustomed to the idea that we must not look upon science as a 'body of knowledge,' but rather as a system of hypotheses; that is to say, as a system of guesses or anticipations which in principle cannot be justified, but with which we work as long as they stand up to tests, and of which we are never justified in saying that we know they are 'true' or 'more or less certain' or even 'probable.'
The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959), 317.
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I was led to the conclusion that at the most extreme dilutions all salts would consist of simple conducting molecules. But the conducting molecules are, according to the hypothesis of Clausius and Williamson, dissociated; hence at extreme dilutions all salt molecules are completely disassociated. The degree of dissociation can be simply found on this assumption by taking the ratio of the molecular conductivity of the solution in question to the molecular conductivity at the most extreme dilution.
Letter to Van’t Hoff, 13 April 1887. In J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry (1961), Vol. 4, 678.
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I was sitting writing at my textbook but the work did not progress; my thoughts were elsewhere. I turned my chair to the fire and dozed. Again the atoms were gambolling before my eyes. This time the smaller groups kept modestly in the background. My mental eye, rendered more acute by the repeated visions of the kind, could now distinguish larger structures of manifold confirmation: long rows, sometimes more closely fitted together all twining and twisting in snake like motion. But look! What was that? One of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail, and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes. As if by a flash of lightning I awoke; and this time also I spent the rest of the night in working out the rest of the hypothesis. Let us learn to dream, gentlemen, then perhaps we shall find the truth... But let us beware of publishing our dreams till they have been tested by waking understanding.
Kekule at Benzolfest in Berichte (1890), 23, 1302.
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I will insist particularly upon the following fact, which seems to me quite important and beyond the phenomena which one could expect to observe: The same [double sulfate of uranium and potassium] crystalline crusts, arranged the same way [as reported to the French academy on 24 Feb 1896] with respect to the photographic plates, in the same conditions and through the same screens, but sheltered from the excitation of incident rays and kept in darkness, still produce the same photographic images … [when kept from 26 Feb 1896] in the darkness of a bureau drawer. … I developed the photographic plates on the 1st of March, expecting to find the images very weak. Instead the silhouettes appeared with great intensity.
It is important to observe that it appears this phenomenon must not be attributed to the luminous radiation emitted by phosphorescence … One hypothesis which presents itself to the mind naturally enough would be to suppose that these rays, whose effects have a great similarity to the effects produced by the rays studied by M. Lenard and M. Röntgen, are invisible rays …
[Having eliminated phosphorescence as a cause, he has further revealed the effect of the as yet unknown radioactivity.]
Read at French Academy of Science (2 Mar 1896). In Comptes Rendus (1896), 122, 501. As translated by Carmen Giunta on the Classic Chemistry web site.
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I would not have it inferred ... that I am, as yet, an advocate for the hypothesis of chemical life. The doctrine of the vitality of the blood, stands in no need of aid from that speculative source. If it did, I would certainly abandon it. For, notwithstanding the fashionableness of the hypothesis in Europe, and the ascendancy it has gained over some minds in this country [USA], it will require stubborn facts to convince me that man with all his corporeal and intellectual attributes is nothing but hydro-phosphorated oxyde of azote ... When the chemist declares, that the same laws which direct the crystallization of spars, nitre and Glauber's salts, direct also the crystallization of man, he must pardon me if I neither understand him, nor believe him.
Medical Theses (1805), 391-2, footnote.
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I … share an excitement and a certain pride in the wonders opened up by scientific investigation …, and also a recognition of the value in scientific method of keeping the hypotheses as simple as possible—my Oxford tutor gave me a great respect for Occam’s razor.
In Letter to periodical, Chemistry and Industry (17 Feb 1997).
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Ideas, like ghosts (according to the common notion of a ghost), must be spoken to a little before they will explain themselves.
From Dealings With the Firm of Dombey and Son (1846), Vol. 1, 184.
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If an explanation is so vague in its inherent nature, or so unskillfully molded in its formulation, that specific deductions subject to empirical verification or refutation can not be based upon it, then it can never serve as a working hypothesis. A hypothesis with which one can not work is not a working hypothesis.
'Role of Analysis in Scientific Investigation', Bulletin of the Geological Society of America (1933), 44, 479.
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If an idea presents itself to us, we must not reject it simply because it does not agree with the logical deductions of a reigning theory.
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If everything in chemistry is explained in a satisfactory manner without the help of phlogiston, it is by that reason alone infinitely probable that the principle does not exist; that it is a hypothetical body, a gratuitous supposition; indeed, it is in the principles of good logic, not to multiply bodies without necessity.
'Reflexions sur le phlogistique', Mémoires de l'Académie des Sciences, 1783, 505-38. Reprinted in Oeuvres de Lavoisier (1864), Vol. 2, 623, trans. M. P. Crosland.
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If I were to awaken after having slept for a thousand years, my first question would be: Has the Riemann hypothesis been proven?
…...
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If it were possible to transfer the methods of physical or of biological science directly to the study of man, the transfer would long ago have been made ... We have failed not for lack of hypotheses which equate man with the rest of the universe, but for lack of a hypothesis (short of animism) which provides for the peculiar divergence of man ... Let me now state my belief that the peculiar factor in man which forbids our explaining his actions upon the ordinary plane of biology is a highly specialized and unstable biological complex, and that this factor is none other than language.
Linguistics as a Science (1930), 555.
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If men of science owe anything to us, we may learn much from them that is essential. For they can show how to test proof, how to secure fulness and soundness in induction, how to restrain and to employ with safety hypothesis and analogy.
Lecture, 'The Study of History' (11 Jun 1895) delivered at Cambridge, published as A Lecture on The Study of History (1895), 54.
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If the world may be thought of as a certain definite quantity of force and as a certain definite number of centers of force—and every other representation remains indefinite and therefore useless—it follows that, in the great dice game of existence, it must pass through calculable number of combinations. In infinite time, every possible combination would at some time or another be realized; more: it would be realized an infinite number of times. And since between every combination and its next recurrence all other possible combinations would have to take place, and each of these combination conditions of the entire sequence of combinations in the same series, a circular movement of absolutely identical series is thus demonstrated: the world as a circular movement that has already repeated itself infinitely often and plays its game in infinitum. This conception is not simply a mechanistic conception; for if it were that, it would not condition an infinite recurrence of identical cases, but a final state. Because the world has not reached this, mechanistic theory must be considered an imperfect and merely provisional hypothesis.
The Will to Power (Notes written 1883-1888), book 4, no. 1066. Trans. W. Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale and ed. W. Kaufmann (1968), 549.
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If time is treated in modern physics as a dimension on a par with the dimensions of space, why should we a priori exclude the possibility that we are pulled as well as pushed along its axis? The future has, after all, as much or as little reality as the past, and there is nothing logically inconceivable in introducing, as a working hypothesis, an element of finality, supplementary to the element of causality, into our equations. It betrays a great lack of imagination to believe that the concept of “purpose” must necessarily be associated with some anthropomorphic deity.
In 'Epilogue', The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959, 1968), 537.
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If we ascribe the ejection of the proton to a Compton recoil from a quantum of 52 x 106 electron volts, then the nitrogen recoil atom arising by a similar process should have an energy not greater than about 400,000 volts, should produce not more than about 10,000 ions, and have a range in the air at N.T.P. of about 1-3mm. Actually, some of the recoil atoms in nitrogen produce at least 30,000 ions. In collaboration with Dr. Feather, I have observed the recoil atoms in an expansion chamber, and their range, estimated visually, was sometimes as much as 3mm. at N.T.P.
These results, and others I have obtained in the course of the work, are very difficult to explain on the assumption that the radiation from beryllium is a quantum radiation, if energy and momentum are to be conserved in the collisions. The difficulties disappear, however, if it be assumed that the radiation consists of particles of mass 1 and charge 0, or neutrons. The capture of the a-particle by the Be9 nucleus may be supposed to result in the formation of a C12 nucleus and the emission of the neutron. From the energy relations of this process the velocity of the neutron emitted in the forward direction may well be about 3 x 109 cm. per sec. The collisions of this neutron with the atoms through which it passes give rise to the recoil atoms, and the observed energies of the recoil atoms are in fair agreement with this view. Moreover, I have observed that the protons ejected from hydrogen by the radiation emitted in the opposite direction to that of the exciting a-particle appear to have a much smaller range than those ejected by the forward radiation.
This again receives a simple explanation on the neutron hypothesis.
'Possible Existence of a Neutron', Letter to the Editor, Nature, 1932, 129, 312.
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If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
In last chapter 'Conclusion', from Walden: or, Life in the Woods (1854), collected in The Writings of Henry David Thoreau (1894), Vol. 2, 499.
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If, then, the motion of every particle of matter in the universe were precisely reversed at any instant, the course of nature would be simply reversed for ever after. The bursting bubble of foam at the foot of a waterfall would reunite and descend into the water; the thermal motions would reconcentrate their energy, and throw the mass up the fall in drops re-forming into a close column of ascending water. Heat which had been generated by the friction of solids and dissipated by conduction, and radiation, and radiation with absorption, would come again to the place of contact, and throw the moving body back against the force to which it had previously yielded. Boulders would recover from the mud materials required to rebuild them into their previous jagged forms, and would become reunited to the mountain peak from which they had formerly broken away. And if also the materialistic hypothesis of life were true, living creatures would grow backwards, with conscious knowledge of the future but no memory of the past, and would become again unborn.
In 'The Kinetic Theory of the Dissipation of Energy', Nature (1874), 9, 442.
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In 1684 Dr Halley came to visit him at Cambridge, after they had been some time together, the Dr asked him what he thought the Curve would be that would be described by the Planets supposing the force of attraction towards the Sun to be reciprocal to the square of their distance from it. Sr Isaac replied immediately that it would be an Ellipsis, the Doctor struck with joy & amazement asked him how he knew it, why saith he I have calculated it, whereupon Dr Halley asked him for his calculation without any farther delay. Sr Isaac looked among his papers but could not find it, but he promised him to renew it, & then to send it him.
[Recollecting Newton's account of the meeting after which Halley prompted Newton to write The Principia. When asking Newton this question, Halley was aware, without revealing it to Newton that Robert Hooke had made this hypothesis of plantary motion a decade earlier.]
Quoted in Richard Westfall, Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton (1980), 403.
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In both social and natural sciences, the body of positive knowledge grows by the failure of a tentative hypothesis to predict phenomena the hypothesis professes to explain; by the patching up of that hypothesis until someone suggests a new hypothesis that more elegantly or simply embodies the troublesome phenomena, and so on ad infinitum. In both, experiment is sometimes possible, sometimes not (witness meteorology). In both, no experiment is ever completely controlled, and experience often offers evidence that is the equivalent of controlled experiment. In both, there is no way to have a self-contained closed system or to avoid interaction between the observer and the observed. The Gödel theorem in mathematics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in physics, the self-fulfilling or self-defeating prophecy in the social sciences all exemplify these limitations.
Inflation and Unemployment (1976), 348.
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In experimental philosophy, propositions gathered from phenomena by induction should be considered either exactly or very nearly true notwithstanding any contrary hypotheses, until yet other phenomena make such propositions either more exact or liable to exceptions.
The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687),3rd edition (1726), trans. I. Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman (1999), Book 3, Rules of Reasoning in Philosophy, Rule 4, 796.
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In fact, whenever energy is transmitted from one body to another in time, there must be a medium or substance in which the energy exists after it leaves one body and before it reaches the other ... and if we admit this medium as an hypothesis, I think it ought to occupy a prominent place in our investigations, and that we ought to endeavour to construct a mental representation of all the details of its action, and this has been my constant aim in this treatise.
A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism (1873), Vol. 2, 438.
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In geology we cannot dispense with conjectures: [but] because we are condemned to dream let us ensure that our dreams are like those of sane men—e.g. that they have their foundations in truth—and are not like the dreams of the sick, formed by strange combinations of phantasms, contrary to nature and therefore incredible.
Introducione alla Geologia, Part I (1811), trans. Ezio Vaccari, 81.
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In Pure Mathematics, where all the various truths are necessarily connected with each other, (being all necessarily connected with those hypotheses which are the principles of the science), an arrangement is beautiful in proportion as the principles are few; and what we admire perhaps chiefly in the science, is the astonishing variety of consequences which may be demonstrably deduced from so small a number of premises.
In Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1827), Vol. 3, Chap. 1, Sec. 8, 186.
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In science it is no crime to be wrong, unless you are (inappropriately) laying claim to truth. What matters is that science as a whole is a self-correcting mechanism in which both new and old notions are constantly under scrutiny. In other words, the edifice of scientific knowledge consists simply of a body of observations and ideas that have (so far) proven resistant to attack, and that are thus accepted as working hypotheses about nature.
In The Monkey in the Mirror: Essays on the Science of What Makes Us Human (2003), 9.
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In science the primary duty of ideas is to be useful and interesting even more than to be “true.”
Lecture delivered to Anthropological Society of University College, London (25 Jan 1929). Published in 'The Functions of the Human Skull', Nature (6 Apr 1929), 123, No. 3101, 533-537. Collected in The Collected Papers of Wilfred Trotter, FRS (1941), 73.
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In scientific study, or, as I prefer to phrase it, in creative scholarship, the truth is the single end sought; all yields to that. The truth is supreme, not only in the vague mystical sense in which that expression has come to be a platitude, but in a special, definite, concrete sense. Facts and the immediate and necessary inductions from facts displace all pre-conceptions, all deductions from general principles, all favourite theories. Previous mental constructions are bowled over as childish play-structures by facts as they come rolling into the mind. The dearest doctrines, the most fascinating hypotheses, the most cherished creations of the reason and of the imagination perish from a mind thoroughly inspired with the scientific spirit in the presence of incompatible facts. Previous intellectual affections are crushed without hesitation and without remorse. Facts are placed before reasonings and before ideals, even though the reasonings and the ideals be more beautiful, be seemingly more lofty, be seemingly better, be seemingly truer. The seemingly absurd and the seemingly impossible are sometimes true. The scientific disposition is to accept facts upon evidence, however absurd they may appear to our pre-conceptions.
The Ethical Functions of Scientific Study: An Address Delivered at the Annual Commencement of the University of Michigan, 28 June 1888, 7-8.
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In the context of biological research one can reasonably identify creativity with the capacity 1 to ask new and incisive questions, 2 to form new hypotheses, 3 to examine old questions in new ways or with new techniques, and 4 to perceive previously unnoticed relationships.
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 231.
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In the light of [current research on atomic structure] the physicists have, I think, some justification for their faith that they are building on the solid rock of fact, and not, as we are often so solemnly warned by some of our scientific brethren, on the shifting sands of imaginative hypothesis.
From Opening Address to the Mathematics and Physics Section at the Annual Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Winnipeg. Collected in 'The British Association at Winnipeg', Nature (26 Aug 1909), 81. No. 2078, 263.
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In the modern interpretation of Mendelism, facts are being transformed into factors at a rapid rate. If one factor will not explain the facts, then two are involved; if two prove insufficient, three will sometimes work out. The superior jugglery sometimes necessary to account for the results may blind us, if taken too naively, to the common-place that the results are often so excellently 'explained' because the explanation was invented to explain them. We work backwards from the facts to the factors, and then, presto! explain the facts by the very factors that we invented to account for them. I am not unappreciative of the distinct advantages that this method has in handling the facts. I realize how valuable it has been to us to be able to marshal our results under a few simple assumptions, yet I cannot but fear that we are rapidly developing a sort of Mendelian ritual by which to explain the extraordinary facts of alternative inheritance. So long as we do not lose sight of the purely arbitrary and formal nature of our formulae, little harm will be done; and it is only fair to state that those who are doing the actual work of progress along Mendelian lines are aware of the hypothetical nature of the factor-assumption.
'What are 'Factors' in Mendelian Explanations?', American Breeders Association (1909), 5, 365.
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In the pursuit of the physical sciences, the imagination supplies the hypothesis which bridges over the gulf that separates the known from the unknown.
Presidential Address to Anniversary meeting of the Royal Society (30 Nov 1859), Proceedings of the Royal Society of London (1860), 10, 165-166.
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In the sciences hypothesis always precedes law, which is to say, there is always a lot of tall guessing before a new fact is established. The guessers are often quite as important as the factfinders; in truth, it would not be difficult to argue that they are more important.
From Baltimore Evening Sun (6 Apr 1931). Collected in A Mencken Chrestomathy (1949, 1956), 329.
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In the study of this membrane [the retina] I for the first time felt my faith in Darwinism (hypothesis of natural selection) weakened, being amazed and confounded by the supreme constructive ingenuity revealed not only in the retina and in the dioptric apparatus of the vertebrates but even in the meanest insect eye. ... I felt more profoundly than in any other subject of study the shuddering sensation of the unfathomable mystery of life.
Recollections of My Life (1898), 576. Quoted in Sidney Perkowitz, Empire of Light (1999), 16.
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Inductive reasoning is, of course, good guessing, not sound reasoning, but the finest results in science have been obtained in this way. Calling the guess a “working hypothesis,” its consequences are tested by experiment in every conceivable way.
In Higher Mathematics for Students of Chemistry and Physics (1902), 2.
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Inexact method of observation, as I believe, is one flaw in clinical pathology to-day. Prematurity of conclusion is another, and in part follows from the first; but in chief part an unusual craving and veneration for hypothesis, which besets the minds of most medical men, is responsible. Except in those sciences which deal with the intangible or with events of long past ages, no treatises are to be found in which hypothesis figures as it does in medical writings. The purity of a science is to be judged by the paucity of its recorded hypotheses. Hypothesis has its right place, it forms a working basis; but it is an acknowledged makeshift, and, at the best, of purpose unaccomplished. Hypothesis is the heart which no man with right purpose wears willingly upon his sleeve. He who vaunts his lady love, ere yet she is won, is apt to display himself as frivolous or his lady a wanton.
The Mechanism and Graphic Registration of the Heart Beat (1920), vii.
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Is evolution a theory, a system or a hypothesis? It is much more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must bow and which they must satisfy henceforth if they are to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow. ... The consciousness of each of us is evolution looking at itself and reflecting upon itself....Man is not the center of the universe as once we thought in our simplicity, but something much more wonderful—the arrow pointing the way to the final unification of the world in terms of life. Man alone constitutes the last-born, the freshest, the most complicated, the most subtle of all the successive layers of life. ... The universe has always been in motion and at this moment continues to be in motion. But will it still be in motion tomorrow? ... What makes the world in which we live specifically modern is our discovery in it and around it of evolution. ... Thus in all probability, between our modern earth and the ultimate earth, there stretches an immense period, characterized not by a slowing-down but a speeding up and by the definitive florescence of the forces of evolution along the line of the human shoot.
In The Phenomenon of Man (1975), pp 218, 220, 223, 227, 228, 277.
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It always bothers me that according to the laws as we understand them today, it takes a computing machine an infinite number of logical operations to figure out what goes on in no matter how tiny a region of space and no matter how tiny a region of time … I have often made the hypothesis that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement, that in the end the machinery will be revealed and the laws will turn out to be simple, like the chequer board with all its apparent complexities. But this speculation is of the same nature as those other people make—“I like it”,“I don't like it”—and it is not good to be too prejudiced about these things.
In The Character of Physical Law (1965, 2001), 57.
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It appears, then, to be a condition of a genuinely scientific hypothesis, that it be not destined always to remain an hypothesis, but be certain to be either proved or disproved by.. .comparison with observed facts.
A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (1858), 293.
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It has been asserted … that the power of observation is not developed by mathematical studies; while the truth is, that; from the most elementary mathematical notion that arises in the mind of a child to the farthest verge to which mathematical investigation has been pushed and applied, this power is in constant exercise. By observation, as here used, can only be meant the fixing of the attention upon objects (physical or mental) so as to note distinctive peculiarities—to recognize resemblances, differences, and other relations. Now the first mental act of the child recognizing the distinction between one and more than one, between one and two, two and three, etc., is exactly this. So, again, the first geometrical notions are as pure an exercise of this power as can be given. To know a straight line, to distinguish it from a curve; to recognize a triangle and distinguish the several forms—what are these, and all perception of form, but a series of observations? Nor is it alone in securing these fundamental conceptions of number and form that observation plays so important a part. The very genius of the common geometry as a method of reasoning—a system of investigation—is, that it is but a series of observations. The figure being before the eye in actual representation, or before the mind in conception, is so closely scrutinized, that all its distinctive features are perceived; auxiliary lines are drawn (the imagination leading in this), and a new series of inspections is made; and thus, by means of direct, simple observations, the investigation proceeds. So characteristic of common geometry is this method of investigation, that Comte, perhaps the ablest of all writers upon the philosophy of mathematics, is disposed to class geometry, as to its method, with the natural sciences, being based upon observation. Moreover, when we consider applied mathematics, we need only to notice that the exercise of this faculty is so essential, that the basis of all such reasoning, the very material with which we build, have received the name observations. Thus we might proceed to consider the whole range of the human faculties, and find for the most of them ample scope for exercise in mathematical studies. Certainly, the memory will not be found to be neglected. The very first steps in number—counting, the multiplication table, etc., make heavy demands on this power; while the higher branches require the memorizing of formulas which are simply appalling to the uninitiated. So the imagination, the creative faculty of the mind, has constant exercise in all original mathematical investigations, from the solution of the simplest problems to the discovery of the most recondite principle; for it is not by sure, consecutive steps, as many suppose, that we advance from the known to the unknown. The imagination, not the logical faculty, leads in this advance. In fact, practical observation is often in advance of logical exposition. Thus, in the discovery of truth, the imagination habitually presents hypotheses, and observation supplies facts, which it may require ages for the tardy reason to connect logically with the known. Of this truth, mathematics, as well as all other sciences, affords abundant illustrations. So remarkably true is this, that today it is seriously questioned by the majority of thinkers, whether the sublimest branch of mathematics,—the infinitesimal calculus—has anything more than an empirical foundation, mathematicians themselves not being agreed as to its logical basis. That the imagination, and not the logical faculty, leads in all original investigation, no one who has ever succeeded in producing an original demonstration of one of the simpler propositions of geometry, can have any doubt. Nor are induction, analogy, the scrutinization of premises or the search for them, or the balancing of probabilities, spheres of mental operations foreign to mathematics. No one, indeed, can claim preeminence for mathematical studies in all these departments of intellectual culture, but it may, perhaps, be claimed that scarcely any department of science affords discipline to so great a number of faculties, and that none presents so complete a gradation in the exercise of these faculties, from the first principles of the science to the farthest extent of its applications, as mathematics.
In 'Mathematics', in Henry Kiddle and Alexander J. Schem, The Cyclopedia of Education, (1877.) As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 27-29.
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It is a common failing–and one that I have myself suffered from–to fall in love with a hypothesis and to be unwilling to take no for an answer. A love affair with a pet hypothesis can waste years of precious time. There is very often no finally decisive yes, though quite often there can be a decisive no.
Advice to a Young Scientist (1979), 73.
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It is a good morning exercise for a research scientist to discard a pet hypothesis every day before breakfast. It keeps him young.
On Aggression, trans. M. Latzke (1966), 8.
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It is by mathematical formulation of its observations and measurements that a science is able to form mathematically expressed hypotheses, and it is through its hypotheses that a natural science is able to make predictions.
The Nature of Science, and Other Essays (1971), 14.
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It is clear, then, that the idea of a fixed method, or of a fixed theory of rationality, rests on too naive a view of man and his social surroundings. To those who look at the rich material provided by history, and who are not intent on impoverishing it in order to please their lower instincts, their craving for intellectual security in the form of clarity, precision, “objectivity”, “truth”, it will become clear that there is only one principle that can be defended under all circumstances and in all stages of human development. It is the principle: anything goes.
Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge (1975, 1993), 18-19.
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It is not enough to say that we cannot know or judge because all the information is not in. The process of gathering knowledge does not lead to knowing. A child's world spreads only a little beyond his understanding while that of a great scientist thrusts outward immeasurably. An answer is invariably the parent of a great family of new questions. So we draw worlds and fit them like tracings against the world about us, and crumple them when we find they do not fit and draw new ones.
In John Steinbeck and Edward Flanders Ricketts, Sea of Cortez: a Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research (1941), 165-66.
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It is often held that scientific hypotheses are constructed, and are to be constructed, only after a detailed weighing of all possible evidence bearing on the matter, and that then and only then may one consider, and still only tentatively, any hypotheses. This traditional view however, is largely incorrect, for not only is it absurdly impossible of application, but it is contradicted by the history of the development of any scientific theory. What happens in practice is that by intuitive insight, or other inexplicable inspiration, the theorist decides that certain features seem to him more important than others and capable of explanation by certain hypotheses. Then basing his study on these hypotheses the attempt is made to deduce their consequences. The successful pioneer of theoretical science is he whose intuitions yield hypotheses on which satisfactory theories can be built, and conversely for the unsuccessful (as judged from a purely scientific standpoint).
Co-author with Raymond Arthur Lyttleton, in 'The Internal Constitution of the Stars', Occasional Notes of the Royal Astronomical Society 1948, 12, 90.
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It is often said that experiments should be made without preconceived ideas. That is impossible. Not only would it make every experiment fruitless, but even if we wished to do so, it could not be done. Every man has his own conception of the world, and this he cannot so easily lay aside. We must, example, use language, and our language is necessarily steeped in preconceived ideas. Only they are unconscious preconceived ideas, which are a thousand times the most dangerous of all.
Science and Hypothesis (1902), trans. W.J.G. (1905), 143.
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It is the first duty of a hypothesis to be intelligible.
In Man’s Place in nature (1863), 106.
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It is the nature of an hypothesis, when once a man has conceived it, that it assimilates every thing to itself, as proper nourishment; and, from the first moment of your begetting it, it generally grows the stronger by every thing you see, hear, read, or understand.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy Gentleman (1759-67), Penguin edition (1997), 121-122.
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It is the simple hypotheses of which one must be most wary; because these are the ones that have the most chances of passing unnoticed.
…...
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It is true that physics gives a wonderful training in precise, logical thinking-about physics. It really does depend upon accurate reproducible experiments, and upon framing hypotheses with the greatest possible freedom from dogmatic prejudice. And if these were the really important things in life, physics would be an essential study for everybody.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 90-91.
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It must ... be admitted that very simple relations ... exist between the volumes of gaseous substances and the numbers of simple or compound molecules which form them. The first hypothesis to present itself in this connection, and apparently even the only admissible one, is the supposition that the number of integral molecules in any gases is always the same for equal volumes, or always proportional to the volumes. Indeed, if we were to suppose that the number of molecules contained in a given volume were different for different gases, it would scarcely be possible to conceive that the law regulating the distance of molecules could give in all cases relations so simple as those which the facts just detailed compel us to acknowledge between the volume and the number of molecules.
'Essay on a Manner of Determining the Relative Masses of the Elementary Molecules of Bodies, and the Proportions in which they enter into these Compounds', Journal de Physique, 1811, 73, 58-76. In Foundations of the Molecular Theory; Alembic Club Reprints, Number 4 (1923), 28-9.
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It must be conceded that a theory has an important advantage if its basic concepts and fundamental hypotheses are 'close to experience,' and greater confidence in such a theory is certainly justified. There is less danger of going completely astray, particularly since it takes so much less time and effort to disprove such theories by experience. Yet more and more, as the depth of our knowledge increases, we must give up this advantage in our quest for logical simplicity in the foundations of physical theory...
'On the Generalized Theory of Gravitation', Scientific American (Apr 1950), 13. In David H. Levy (Ed.), The Scientific American Book of the Cosmos (2000), 19.
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It must be gently but firmly pointed out that analogy is the very corner-stone of scientific method. A root-and-branch condemnation would invalidate any attempt to explain the unknown in terms of the known, and thus prune away every hypothesis.
In 'On Analogy', The Cambridge Magazine (2 Mar 1918), 476. As quoted in Robert Scott Root-Bernstein and Michèle Root-Bernstein, Sparks of Genius: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative (2001), 144.
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It reveals to me the causes of many natural phenomena that are entirely incomprehensible in the light of the generally accepted hypotheses. To refute the latter I collected many proofs, but I do not publish them ... I would dare to publish my speculations if there were people men like you.
[Declaring his belief in the heliocentric theory of Copernicus.]
Letter to Kepler (1596). Quoted in Will Durant, Ariel Duran, The Age of Reason Begins (1961), 603. From Hermann Kesten, Copernicus and His World, translated by E.B. Ashton (pseud.) and Norbert Guterman (1945), 348-349.
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It seems a miracle that young children easily learn the language of any environment into which they were born. The generative approach to grammar, pioneered by Chomsky, argues that this is only explicable if certain deep, universal features of this competence are innate characteristics of the human brain. Biologically speaking, this hypothesis of an inheritable capability to learn any language means that it must somehow be encoded in the DNA of our chromosomes. Should this hypothesis one day be verified, then lingusitics would become a branch of biology.
'The Generative Grammar of the Immune System', Nobel Lecture, 8 Dec 1984. In Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1981-1990 (1993), 223.
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It seems to me that the evidence ... is opposed to the view that the spirals are individual galaxies comparable with our own. In fact, there appears as yet no reason for modifying the tentative hypothesis that the spirals are not composed of typical stars at all, but are truly nebulous objects.
[Contradicting the view of Heber Curtis during the Shapley-Curtis debate on 26 Apr 1920 to the National Academy of Sciences.]
In Aleksandr Sergeevich Sharov and Igor Dmitrievich Novikov, Edwin Hubble: The Discoverer of the Big Bang Universe (1993), 27.
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It seems to me that the physical constitution of the valley, on which I am reporting, must cast doubt in the minds of those who may have accepted the assumptions of any of the geologic systems hitherto proposed; and that those who delight in science would do better to enrich themselves with empirical facts than take upon themselves the burden of defending and applying general hypotheses.
Della valle vulcanico-marina di Roncà nel Territorio Veronese (1778), trans. Ezio Vaccari, vii-viii.
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It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas … If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you … On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful ideas from the worthless ones.
In 'The Burden of Skepticism', Skeptical Inquirer (Fall 1987), 12, No. 1.
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It would be very discouraging if somewhere down the line you could ask a computer if the Riemann hypothesis is correct and it said, “Yes, it is true, but you won’t be able to understand the proof.”
As quoted in John Horgan, 'The Death of Proof', Scientific American (Oct 1993), 269, No. 4, 103.
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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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Knowing what we know from X-ray and related studies of the fibrous proteins, how they are built from long polypeptide chains with linear patterns drawn to a grand scale, how these chains can contract and take up different configurations by intramolecular folding, how the chain- groups are penetrated by, and their sidechains react with, smaller co-operating molecules, and finally how they can combine so readily with nucleic acid molecules and still maintain the fibrous configuration, it is but natural to assume, as a first working hypothesis at least, that they form the long scroll on which is written the pattern of life. No other molecules satisfy so many requirements.
William Thomas Astbury and Florence O. Bell. 'Some Recent Developments in the X-Ray Study of Proteins and Related Structures', Cold Spring Harbor Symposia on Quantitative Biology, 1938, 6, 1144.
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Let us dismiss the question, “Have you proven that your model is valid?” with a quick NO. Then let us take up the more rewarding and far more challenging question: “Have you proven that your model is useful for learning more… ” [Co-author]
In J.B. Mankin, R.V. O’Neill, H.H. Shugart and B.W. Rust, 'The Importance of Validation in Ecosystem Analysis', in: G.S. Innis (ed.), New Directions in the Analysis of Ecological Systems (1977), Part I, 69.
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Many 'hard' scientists regard the term 'social science' as an oxymoron. Science means hypotheses you can test, and prove or disprove. Social science is little more than observation putting on airs.
'A Cuba Policy That's Stuck On Plan A', opinion column, The Washington Post (17 Apr 2009)
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Mathematics is a science of Observation, dealing with reals, precisely as all other sciences deal with reals. It would be easy to show that its Method is the same: that, like other sciences, having observed or discovered properties, which it classifies, generalises, co-ordinates and subordinates, it proceeds to extend discoveries by means of Hypothesis, Induction, Experiment and Deduction.
In Problems of Life and Mind: The Method of Science and its Application (1874), 423-424. [The reals are the relations of magnitude.]
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Mathematics is not a deductive science—that’s a cliché. When you try to prove a theorem, you don’t just list the hypotheses, and then start to reason. What you do is trial and error, experiment and guesswork.
In I Want to be a Mathematician: an Automathography in Three Parts (1985), 321.
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Mathematics is not the discoverer of laws, for it is not induction; neither is it the framer of theories, for it is not hypothesis; but it is the judge over both, and it is the arbiter to which each must refer its claims; and neither law can rule nor theory explain without the sanction of mathematics.
In 'Linear Associative Algebra', American Journal of Mathematics (1881), 4, 97.
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Measurement has too often been the leitmotif of many investigations rather than the experimental examination of hypotheses. Mounds of data are collected, which are statistically decorous and methodologically unimpeachable, but conclusions are often trivial and rarely useful in decision making. This results from an overly rigorous control of an insignificant variable and a widespread deficiency in the framing of pertinent questions. Investigators seem to have settled for what is measurable instead of measuring what they would really like to know.
'Patient Care—Mystical Research or Researchable Mystique/', Clinical Research (1964), 12, no. 4, 422.
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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.
In 'Introduction', General Chemistry: An Elementary Survey Emphasizing Industrial Applications of Fundamental Principles (1923), 4.
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Modern discoveries have not been made by large collections of facts, with subsequent discussion, separation, and resulting deduction of a truth thus rendered perceptible. A few facts have suggested an hypothesis, which means a supposition, proper to explain them. The necessary results of this supposition are worked out, and then, and not till then, other facts are examined to see if their ulterior results are found in Nature.
In A Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 55.
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More discoveries have arisen from intense observation of very limited material than from statistics applied to large groups. The value of the latter lies mainly in testing hypotheses arising from the former. While observing one should cultivate a speculative, contemplative attitude of mind and search for clues to be followed up. Training in observation follows the same principles as training in any activity. At first one must do things consciously and laboriously, but with practice the activities gradually become automatic and unconscious and a habit is established. Effective scientific observation also requires a good background, for only by being familiar with the usual can we notice something as being unusual or unexplained.
The Art of Scientific Investigation (1950), 101.
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Mr Hall's hypothesis has its cause for subsidence, but none for the lifting of the thickened sunken crust into mountains. It is a theory for the origin of mountains, with the origin of mountains left out.
In 'Observations on the Origin of Some of the Earth's Features', The American Journal of Science (Sep 1866), Second Series, 42, No. 125, 210.
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Mr Hooke sent, in his next letter [to Sir Isaac Newton] the whole of his Hypothesis, scil that the gravitation was reciprocall to the square of the distance: ... This is the greatest Discovery in Nature that ever was since the World's Creation. It was never so much as hinted by any man before. I wish he had writt plainer, and afforded a little more paper.
Brief Lives (1680), edited by Oliver Lawson Dick (1949), 166-7.
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My Design in this Book is not to explain the Properties of Light by Hypotheses, but to propose and prove them by Reason and Experiments: In order to which, I shall premise the following Definitions and Axioms.
Opticks (1704), Book 1, Part 1, Introduction, 1.
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My own thinking (and that of many of my colleagues) is based on two general principles, which I shall call the Sequence Hypothesis and the Central Dogma. The direct evidence for both of them is negligible, but I have found them to be of great help in getting to grips with these very complex problems. I present them here in the hope that others can make similar use of them. Their speculative nature is emphasized by their names. It is an instructive exercise to attempt to build a useful theory without using them. One generally ends in the wilderness.
The Sequence Hypothesis
This has already been referred to a number of times. In its simplest form it assumes that the specificity of a piece of nucleic acid is expressed solely by the sequence of its bases, and that this sequence is a (simple) code for the amino acid sequence of a particular protein...
The Central Dogma
This states that once 'information' has passed into protein it cannot get out again. In more detail, the transfer of information from nucleic acid to nucleic acid, or from nucleic acid to protein may be possible, but transfer from protein to protein, or from protein to nucleic acid is impossible. Information means here the precise determination of sequence, either of bases in the nucleic acid or of amino acid residues in the protein. This is by no means universally held—Sir Macfarlane Burnet, for example, does not subscribe to it—but many workers now think along these lines. As far as I know it has not been explicitly stated before.
'On Protein Synthesis', Symposia of the Society for Experimental Biology: The Biological Replication of Macromolecules, 1958, 12, 152-3.
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My “"thinking”" time was devoted mainly to activities that were essentially clerical or mechanical: searching, calculating, plotting, transforming, determining the logical or dynamic consequences of a set of assumptions or hypotheses, preparing the way for a decision or an insight. Moreover ... the operations that fill most of the time allegedly devoted to technical thinking are operations that can be performed more effectively by machines than by men.
From article 'Man-Computer Symbiosis', in IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics (Mar 1960), Vol. HFE-1, 4-11.
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Napoleon: M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book [Système du Monde] on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.
Laplace: I have no need for this hypothesis. (Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse-là.)
Quoted in Augustus De Morgan, Budget of Paradoxes (1915), Vol. 2, 2-3.
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Newton supposed that the case of the planet was similar to that of [a ball spun around on the end of an elastic string]; that it was always pulled in the direction of the sun, and that this attraction or pulling of the sun produced the revolution of the planet, in the same way that the traction or pulling of the elastic string produces the revolution of the ball. What there is between the sun and the planet that makes each of them pull the other, Newton did not know; nobody knows to this day; and all we are now able to assert positively is that the known motion of the planet is precisely what would be produced if it were fastened to the sun by an elastic string, having a certain law of elasticity. Now observe the nature of this discovery, the greatest in its consequences that has ever yet been made in physical science:—
I. It begins with an hypothesis, by supposing that there is an analogy between the motion of a planet and the motion of a ball at the end of a string.
II. Science becomes independent of the hypothesis, for we merely use it to investigate the properties of the motion, and do not trouble ourselves further about the cause of it.
'On Some of the Conditions of Mental Development,' a discourse delivered at the Royal Institution, 6 Mar 1868, in Leslie Stephen and Frederick Pollock (eds.), Lectures and Essays, by the Late William Kingdon Clifford (1886), 56.
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No branches of historical inquiry have suffered more from fanciful speculation than those which relate to the origin and attributes of the races of mankind. The differentiation of these races began in prehistoric darkness, and the more obscure a subject is, so much the more fascinating. Hypotheses are tempting, because though it may be impossible to verify them, it is, in the paucity of data, almost equally impossible to refute them.
Creighton Lecture delivered before the University of London on 22 Feb 1915. Race Sentiment as a Factor in History (1915), 3.
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No experimental result can ever kill a theory: any theory can be saved from counterinstances either by some auxiliary hypothesis or by a suitable reinterpretation of its terms.
In 'Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes', in I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave (eds.), Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge: Proceedings of the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science, London 1965 (1970), Vol. 4, 116.
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No hypothesis concerning the nature of this 'something' shall be advanced thereby or based thereon. Therefore it appears as most simple to use the last syllable 'gen' taken from Darwin's well-known word pangene since it alone is of interest to use, in order thereby to replace the poor, more ambiguous word, 'Anlage'. Thus, we will say for 'das pangene' and 'die pangene' simply 'Das Gen' and 'Die Gene,' The word Gen is fully free from every hypothesis; it expresses only the safely proved fact that in any case many properties of organisms are conditioned by separable and hence independent 'Zustiinde,' 'Grundlagen,' 'Anlagen'—in short what we will call 'just genes'—which occur specifically in the gametes.
Elemente der Exakten Erblichkeitslehre (1909), 124. Trans. G. E. Allen and quoted in G. E. Allen, Thomas Hunt Morgan: The Man and His Science (1978), 209-10 (Footnote 79).
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No one believes an hypothesis except its originator but everyone believes an experiment except the experimenter. Most people are ready to believe something based on experiment but the experimenter knows the many little things that could have gone wrong in the experiment. For this reason the discoverer of a new fact seldom feels quite so confident of it as others do. On the other hand other people are usually critical of an hypothesis, whereas the originator identifies himself with it and is liable to become devoted to it.
The Art of Scientific Investigation (1950), 47.
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No true geologist holds by the development hypothesis;—it has been resigned to sciolists and smatterers;—and there is but one other alternative. They began to be, through the miracle of creation. From the evidence furnished by these rocks we are shut down either to belief in miracle, or to something else infinitely harder of reception, and as thoroughly unsupported by testimony as it is contrary to experience. Hume is at length answered by the severe truths of the stony science.
The Foot-prints of the Creator: Or, The Asterolepis of Stromness (1850, 1859), 301.
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Not that we may not, to explain any Phenomena of Nature, make use of any probable Hypothesis whatsoever: Hypotheses, if they are well made, are at least great helps to the Memory, and often direct us to new discoveries. But my Meaning is, that we should not take up anyone too hastily, (which the Mind, that would always penetrate into the Causes of Things, and have Principles to rest on, is very apt to do,) till we have very well examined Particulars, and made several Experiments, in that thing which we would explain by our Hypothesis, and see whether it will agree to them all; whether our Principles will carry us quite through, and not be as inconsistent with one Phenomenon of Nature, as they seem to accommodate and explain another.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter Nidditch (1975), Book 4, Chapter 12, Section 13, 648.
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Now that we locate them [genes] in the chromosomes are we justified in regarding them as material units; as chemical bodies of a higher order than molecules? Frankly, these are questions with which the working geneticist has not much concern himself, except now and then to speculate as to the nature of the postulated elements. There is no consensus of opinion amongst geneticists as to what the genes are—whether they are real or purely fictitious—because at the level at which the genetic experiments lie, it does not make the slightest difference whether the gene is a hypothetical unit, or whether the gene is a material particle. In either case the unit is associated with a specific chromosome, and can be localized there by purely genetic analysis. Hence, if the gene is a material unit, it is a piece of chromosome; if it is a fictitious unit, it must be referred to a definite location in a chromosome—the same place as on the other hypothesis. Therefore, it makes no difference in the actual work in genetics which point of view is taken. Between the characters that are used by the geneticist and the genes that his theory postulates lies the whole field of embryonic development.
'The Relation of Genetics to Physiology and Medicine', Nobel Lecture (4 Jun 1934). In Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1922-1941 (1965), 315.
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On principle, there is nothing new in the postulate that in the end exact science should aim at nothing more than the description of what can really be observed. The question is only whether from now on we shall have to refrain from tying description to a clear hypothesis about the real nature of the world. There are many who wish to pronounce such abdication even today. But I believe that this means making things a little too easy for oneself.
…...
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On the whole, I cannot help saying that it appears to me not a little extraordinary, that a theory so new, and of such importance, overturning every thing that was thought to be the best established in chemistry, should rest on so very narrow and precarious a foundation, the experiments adduced in support of it being not only ambiguous or explicable on either hypothesis, but exceedingly few. I think I have recited them all, and that on which the greatest stress is laid, viz. That of the formation of water from the decomposition of the two kinds of air, has not been sufficiently repeated. Indeed it required so difficult and expensive an apparatus, and so many precautions in the use of it, that the frequent repetition of the experiment cannot be expected; and in these circumstances the practised experimenter cannot help suspecting the accuracy of the result and consequently the certainty of the conclusion.
Considerations on the Doctrine of Phlogiston (1796), 57-8.
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One must credit an hypothesis with all that has had to be discovered in order to demolish it.
Pensées d'un Biologiste (1939). Translated in The Substance of Man (1962), 89.
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One of the most beautiful hypotheses ever propounded in physics is ... the Dynamical Theory of Gases
Speaking to the 491st Meeting (30 Jan1861), Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1862), Vol. 5, 112.
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Our natural way of thinking about these coarser emotions is that the mental perception of some fact excites the mental affection called the emotion, and that this latter state of mind gives rise to the bodily expression. My theory, on the contrary, is that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur IS the emotion. Common-sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike. The hypothesis here to be defended says that this order of sequence is incorrect, that the one mental state is not immediately induced by the other, that the bodily manifestations must first be interposed between, and that the more rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble, and not that we cry, strike, or tremble, because we are sorry, angry, or fearful, as the case may be. Without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colorless, destitute of emotional warmth. We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult and deem it right to strike, but we should not actually feel afraid or angry.
The Principles or Psychology (1890), Vol. 2, 449-50.
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Paris ... On this side of the ocean it is difficult to understand the susceptibility of American citizens on the subject and precisely why they should so stubbornly cling to the biblical version. It is said in Genesis the first man came from mud and mud is not anything very clean. In any case if the Darwinian hypothesis should irritate any one it should only be the monkey. The monkey is an innocent animal—a vegetarian by birth. He never placed God on a cross, knows nothing of the art of war, does not practice lynch law and never dreams of assassinating his fellow beings. The day when science definitely recognizes him as the father of the human race the monkey will have no occasion to be proud of his descendants. That is why it must be concluded that the American Association which is prosecuting the teacher of evolution can be no other than the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
[A cynical article in the French press on the Scopes Monkey Trial, whether it will decide “a monkey or Adam was the grandfather of Uncle Sam.”]
Newspaper
Article from a French daily newspaper on the day hearings at the Scopes Monkey Trial began, Paris Soir (13 Jul 1925), quoted in 'French Satirize the Case', New York Times (14 Jul 1925), 3.
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Progress is achieved by exchanging our theories for new ones which go further than the old, until we find one based on a larger number of facts. … Theories are only hypotheses, verified by more or less numerous facts. Those verified by the most facts are the best, but even then they are never final, never to be absolutely believed.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 165.
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Pure mathematics consists entirely of such asseverations as that, if such and such is a proposition is true of anything, then such and such another propositions is true of that thing. It is essential not to discuss whether the first proposition is really true, and not to mention what the anything is of which it is supposed to be true. Both these points would belong to applied mathematics. … If our hypothesis is about anything and not about some one or more particular things, then our deductions constitute mathematics. Thus mathematics may be defined as the the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, not whether what we are saying is true. People who have been puzzled by the beginnings of mathematics will, I hope, find comfort in this definition, and will probably agree that it is accurate.
In 'Recent Work on the Principles of Mathematics', International Monthly (1901), 4, 84.
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Reality may avoid the obligation to be interesting, but ... hypotheses may not.
Lönnrot to Treviranus in 'Death and the Compass', trans. from the Spanish (1956) by Anthony Kerrigan, collected in Ficciones (1962), 130.
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Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. It can also build gigantic intellectual ships, but it constructs no moral rudders for the control of storm tossed human vessel. It not only fails to supply the spiritual element needed but some of its unproven hypotheses rob the ship of its compass and thus endangers its cargo.
Proposed summation written for the Scopes Monkey Trial (1925), in Genevieve Forbes Herrick and John Origen Herrick ,The Life of William Jennings Bryan (1925), 405. This speech was prepared for delivery at the trial, but was never heard there, as both sides mutually agreed to forego arguments to the jury.
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Science is a procedure for testing and rejecting hypotheses, not a compendium of certain knowledge. … Theories that cannot be tested in principle are not a part in science.
In The Flamingo's Smile: Reflections in Natural History (1985), 111.
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Science, then, is the attentive consideration of common experience; it is common knowledge extended and refined. Its validity is of the same order as that of ordinary perception; memory, and understanding. Its test is found, like theirs, in actual intuition, which sometimes consists in perception and sometimes in intent. The flight of science is merely longer from perception to perception, and its deduction more accurate of meaning from meaning and purpose from purpose. It generates in the mind, for each vulgar observation, a whole brood of suggestions, hypotheses, and inferences. The sciences bestow, as is right and fitting, infinite pains upon that experience which in their absence would drift by unchallenged or misunderstood. They take note, infer, and prophesy. They compare prophesy with event, and altogether they supply—so intent are they on reality—every imaginable background and extension for the present dream.
The Life of Reason, or the Phases of Human Progress (1954), 393.
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Scientists and particularly the professional students of evolution are often accused of a bias toward mechanism or materialism, even though believers in vitalism and in finalism are not lacking among them. Such bias as may exist is inherent in the method of science. The most successful scientific investigation has generally involved treating phenomena as if they were purely materialistic, rejecting any metaphysical hypothesis as long as a physical hypothesis seems possible. The method works. The restriction is necessary because science is confined to physical means of investigation and so it would stultify its own efforts to postulate that its subject is not physical and so not susceptible to its methods.
The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life and of its Significance for Man (1949), 127.
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Scientists should not be ashamed to admit, as many of them apparently are ashamed to admit, that hypotheses appear in their minds along uncharted by-ways of thought; that they are imaginative and inspirational in character; that they are indeed adventures of the mind.
In 'Is the Scientific Paper Fraudulent?', The Saturday Review (1 Aug 1964), 43.
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So many of the properties of matter, especially when in the gaseous form, can be deduced from the hypothesis that their minute parts are in rapid motion, the velocity increasing with the temperature, that the precise nature of this motion becomes a subject of rational curiosity. Daniel Bernoulli, Herapath, Joule, Kronig, Clausius, &c., have shewn that the relations between pressure, temperature and density in a perfect gas can be explained by supposing the particles move with uniform velocity in straight lines, striking against the sides of the containing vessel and thus producing pressure. (1860)
In W.D. Niven (ed.) 'Illustrations of the Dynamical Theory of Gases,' The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell, Vol 1, 377. Quoted in John David Anderson, Jr., Hypersonic and High Temperature Gas Dynamics (2000), 468.
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Some authors seem to believe that hypotheses are the natural product of observations as is the case for a pear tree which produces pears; therefore only one exists which is ‘the real and the good one’.
In 'Anatomie comparée des hypothèses sur les plissements de couverture (Ie jura plissée)', The Bulletin of the Geological Institutions of the University of Uppsala (1961), Vol. 40, 180-181, trans. Albert V. and Marguerite Carozzi.
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Sometimes a hunch, right or wrong, is sufficient theory to lead to a useful observation.
In On the Management of Statistical Techniques for Quality and Productivity (1981), 86.
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Study actively. Don’t just read it; fight it! Ask your own questions, look for your own examples, discover your own proofs. Is the hypothesis necessary? Is the converse true? What happens in the classical special case? What about the degenerate cases? Where does the proof use the hypothesis?
In I Want to be a Mathematician: An Automathography (1985), 69.
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Testing the impact of public health interventions in response to the null hypothesis may help reduce avoidable hubris in expectations of benefits.
As quoted in 'Aphorism of the Month', Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (Sep 2007), 61, No. 9, 796.
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That he [Einstein] may sometimes have missed the target in his speculations, as, for example, in his hypothesis of light quanta, cannot really be held much against him.
From letter proposing the young Einstein as a member of the Royal Prussian Academy of Science. As quoted in Albert Einstein: A Documentary Biography (1956), 145. The letter was co-signed by Nernst, Rubens and Warburg.
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The art of discovering the causes of phenomena, or true hypothesis, is like the art of deciphering, in which an ingenious conjecture greatly shortens the road.
In Gottfried Leibniz and Alfred Fideon Langley (trans.), 'Leibniz’s Critique of Locke', New Essays Concerning Human Understanding (1896), Book 4, Chap. 12, 526.
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The Astonishing Hypothesis is that “You,” your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased it: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.”
In 'Introduction', The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for Soul (1994), 3.
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The best and safest way of philosophising seems to be, first to enquire diligently into the properties of things, and to establish those properties by experiences [experiments] and then to proceed slowly to hypotheses for the explanation of them. For hypotheses should be employed only in explaining the properties of things, but not assumed in determining them; unless so far as they may furnish experiments.
Letter to the French Jesuit, Gaston Pardies. Translation from the original Latin, as in Richard S. Westfall, Never at Rest: a Biography of Isaac Newton (1983), 242.
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The best causes tend to attract to their support the worst arguments, which seems to be equally true in the intellectual and in the moral sense.
Statistical Methods and Scientific Inference (1956), 31.
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The Big Idea that had been developed in the seventeenth century ... is now known as the scientific method. It says that the way to proceed when investigating how the world works is to first carry out experiments and/or make observations of the natural world. Then, develop hypotheses to explain these observations, and (crucially) use the hypothesis to make predictions about the future outcome of future experiments and/or observations. After comparing the results of those new observations with the predictions of the hypotheses, discard those hypotheses which make false predictions, and retain (at least, for the time being) any hypothesis that makes accurate predictions, elevating it to the status of a theory. Note that a theory can never be proved right. The best that can be said is that it has passed all the tests applied so far.
In The Fellowship: the Story of a Revolution (2005), 275.
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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 domain of mathematics is the sole domain of certainty. There and there alone prevail the standards by which every hypothesis respecting the external universe and all observation and all experiment must be finally judged. It is the realm to which all speculation and thought must repair for chastening and sanitation, the court of last resort, I say it reverently, for all intellection whatsoever, whether of demon, or man, or deity. It is there that mind as mind attains its highest estate.
In 'The Universe and Beyond', Hibbert Journal (1904-1906), 3, 314.
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The earliest signs of living things, announcing as they do a high complexity of organization, entirely exclude the hypothesis of a transmutation from lower to higher grades of being. The first fiat of Creation which went forth, doubtlessly ensured the perfect adaptation of animals to the surrounding media; and thus, whilst the geologist recognizes a beginning, he can see in the innumerable facts of the eye of the earliest crustacean, the same evidences of Omniscience as in the completion of the vertebrate form.
Siluria (1854), 469.
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The experiment serves two purposes, often independent one from the other: it allows the observation of new facts, hitherto either unsuspected, or not yet well defined; and it determines whether a working hypothesis fits the world of observable facts.
In Louis Pasteur, Free Lance of Science (1960), 362.
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The fact that all normal children acquire essentially comparable grammars of great complexity with remarkable rapidity suggests that human beings are somehow specially designed to do this, with data-handling or 'hypothesis-formulating' ability of unknown character and complexity.
A review of B. F. Skinner, Verbal Behavior (1957). In Language: Journal of the Linguistic Society of America, 1959, 35, 57.
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The faith of scientists in the power and truth of mathematics is so implicit that their work has gradually become less and less observation, and more and more calculation. The promiscuous collection and tabulation of data have given way to a process of assigning possible meanings, merely supposed real entities, to mathematical terms, working out the logical results, and then staging certain crucial experiments to check the hypothesis against the actual empirical results. But the facts which are accepted by virtue of these tests are not actually observed at all. With the advance of mathematical technique in physics, the tangible results of experiment have become less and less spectacular; on the other hand, their significance has grown in inverse proportion. The men in the laboratory have departed so far from the old forms of experimentation—typified by Galileo's weights and Franklin's kite—that they cannot be said to observe the actual objects of their curiosity at all; instead, they are watching index needles, revolving drums, and sensitive plates. No psychology of 'association' of sense-experiences can relate these data to the objects they signify, for in most cases the objects have never been experienced. Observation has become almost entirely indirect; and readings take the place of genuine witness.
Philosophy in a New Key; A Study in Inverse the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art (1942), 19-20.
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The first objection to Darwinism is that it is only a guess and was never anything more. It is called a “hypothesis,” but the word “hypothesis,” though euphonioous, dignified and high-sounding, is merely a scientific synonym for the old-fashioned word “guess.” If Darwin had advanced his views as a guess they would not have survived for a year, but they have floated for half a century, buoyed up by the inflated word “hypothesis.” When it is understood that “hypothesis” means “guess,” people will inspect it more carefully before accepting it.
'God and Evolution', New York Times (26 Feb 1922), 84. Rebuttals were printed a few days later from Henry Fairfield Osborn and Edwin Grant Conklin.
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The framing of hypotheses is, for the enquirer after truth, not the end, but the beginning of his work. Each of his systems is invented, not that he may admire it and follow it into all its consistent consequences, but that he may make it the occasion of a course of active experiment and observation. And if the results of this process contradict his fundamental assumptions, however ingenious, however symmetrical, however elegant his system may be, he rejects it without hesitation. He allows no natural yearning for the offspring of his own mind to draw him aside from the higher duty of loyalty to his sovereign, Truth, to her he not only gives his affections and his wishes, but strenuous labour and scrupulous minuteness of attention.
Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1847), Vol. 2, 57.
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The functional validity of a working hypothesis is not a priori certain, because often it is initially based on intuition. However, logical deductions from such a hypothesis provide expectations (so-called prognoses) as to the circumstances under which certain phenomena will appear in nature. Such a postulate or working hypothesis can then be substantiated by additional observations ... The author calls such expectations and additional observations the prognosis-diagnosis method of research. Prognosis in science may be termed the prediction of the future finding of corroborative evidence of certain features or phenomena (diagnostic facts). This method of scientific research builds up and extends the relations between the subject and the object by means of a circuit of inductions and deductions.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 454-5.
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The fundamental hypothesis of genetic epistemology is that there is a parallelism between the progress made in the logical and rational organization of knowledge and the corresponding formative psychological processes. With that hypothesis, the most fruitful, most obvious field of study would be the reconstituting of human history—the history of human thinking in prehistoric man. Unfortunately, we are not very well informed in the psychology of primitive man, but there are children all around us, and it is in studying children that we have the best chance of studying the development of logical knowledge, physical knowledge, and so forth.
'Genetic Epistemology', Columbia Forum (1969), 12, 4.
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The Gaia Hypothesis asserts that Earth’s atmosphere is continually interacting with geology (the lithosphere). Earth’s cycling waters (the hydrosphere), and everything that lives (the biosphere). … The image is that the atmosphere is a circulatory system for life’s bio-chemical interplay. If the atmosphere is pan of a larger whole that has some of the qualities of an organism, one of those qualities we must now pray for is resilience.
In Praise of Nature
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The grand aim of all science is to cover the greatest number of empirical facts by logical deduction from the smallest possible number of hypotheses or axioms.
(1923). As quoted in Lincoln Barnett, The Universe and Dr. Einstein (1950), 110.
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The great tragedy of science—the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.
President's Address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Liverpool Meeting, 14 Sep 1870. The Scientific Memoirs of Thomas Henry Huxley (1901), Vol. 3, 580.
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The growth of our knowledge is the result of a process closely resembling what Darwin called “natural selection”; that is, the natural selection of hypotheses: our knowledge consists, at every moment, of those hypotheses which have shown their (comparative) fitness by surviving so far in their struggle for existence, a competitive struggle which eliminates those hypotheses which are unfit.
From Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach (1971), 261. As quoted in Dean Keith Simonton, Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity (1999), 26.
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The history of thought should warn us against concluding that because the scientific theory of the world is the best that has yet been formulated, it is necessarily complete and final. We must remember that at bottom the generalizations of science or, in common parlance, the laws of nature are merely hypotheses devised to explain that ever-shifting phantasmagoria of thought which we dignify with the high-sounding names of the world and the universe. In the last analysis magic, religion, and science are nothing but theories of thought.
In The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (1890, 1900), Vol. 3, 460.
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The hypotheses which we accept ought to explain phenomena which we have observed. But they ought to do more than this; our hypotheses ought to foretell phenomena which have not yet been observed; ... because if the rule prevails, it includes all cases; and will determine them all, if we can only calculate its real consequences. Hence it will predict the results of new combinations, as well as explain the appearances which have occurred in old ones. And that it does this with certainty and correctness, is one mode in which the hypothesis is to be verified as right and useful.
Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1847), Vol. 2, 62-63.
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The hypothesis of the connexion of the first limestone beds with the commencement of organic life upon our planet is supported by the fact, that in these beds we find the first remains of the bodies of animated creatures.
Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844), 57.
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The hypothesis that man is not free is essential to the application of scientific method to the study of human behavior. The free inner man who is held responsible for the behavior of the external biological organism is only a prescientific substitute for the kinds of causes which are discovered in the course of a scientific analysis.
In Science and Human Behavior (1953), 447.
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The hypothetical character of continual creation has been pointed out, but why is it more of a hypothesis to say that creation is taking place now than that it took place in the past? On the contrary, the hypothesis of continual creation is more fertile in that it answers more questions and yields more results, and results that are, at least in principle, observable. To push the entire question of creation into the past is to restrict science to a discussion of what happened after creation while forbidding it to examine creation itself. This is a counsel of despair to be taken only if everything else fails.
From Cosmology (), 152.
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The interior parts of the earth and its internal depths are a region totally impervious to the eye of mortal man, and can least of all be approached by those ordinary paths of hypothesis adopted by naturalists and geologists. The region designed for the existence of man, and of every other creature endowed with organic life, as well as the sphere opened to the perception of man's senses, is confined to a limited space between the upper and lower parts of the earth, exceedingly small in proportion to the diameter, or even semi-diameter of the earth, and forming only the exterior surface, or outer skin, of the great body of the earth.
In Friedrich von Schlegel and James Burton Robertson (trans.), The Philosophy of History (1835), 20.
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The knowledge of Natural-History, being Observation of Matters of Fact, is more certain than most others, and in my slender Opinion, less subject to Mistakes than Reasonings, Hypotheses, and Deductions are; ... These are things we are sure of, so far as our Senses are not fallible; and which, in probability, have been ever since the Creation, and will remain to the End of the World, in the same Condition we now find them.
A Voyage to the Islands Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica: With the Natural History of the Herbs and Trees, Four-footed Beasts, Fishes, Birds, Insects, Reptiles, &c. of the Last of those Islands (1707), Vol. 1, 1.
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The laws of science are the permanent contributions to knowledge—the individual pieces that are fitted together in an attempt to form a picture of the physical universe in action. As the pieces fall into place, we often catch glimpses of emerging patterns, called theories; they set us searching for the missing pieces that will fill in the gaps and complete the patterns. These theories, these provisional interpretations of the data in hand, are mere working hypotheses, and they are treated with scant respect until they can be tested by new pieces of the puzzle.
In Commencement Address, California Institute of Technology (10 Jun 1938), 'Experiment and Experience'. Collected in abridged form in The Huntington Library Quarterly (Apr 1939), 2, No. 3, 244.
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The limitations of archaeology are galling. It collects phenomena, but hardly ever can isolate them so as to interpret scientifically; it can frame any number of hypotheses, but rarely, if ever, scientifically prove.
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The main Business of Natural Philosophy is to argue from Phænomena without feigning Hypotheses, and to deduce Causes from Effects till we come to the very first Cause, which certainly is not mechanical; and not only to unfold the Mechanism of the World, but chiefly to resolve these, and to such like Questions.
From 'Query 31', Opticks (1704, 2nd ed., 1718), 344.
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The major religions on the Earth contradict each other left and right. You can’t all be correct. And what if all of you are wrong? It’s a possibility, you know. You must care about the truth, right? Well, the way to winnow through all the differing contentions is to be skeptical. I’m not any more skeptical about your religious beliefs than I am about every new scientific idea I hear about. But in my line of work, they’re called hypotheses, not inspiration and not revelation.
Contact (1997), 162.
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The man of science who cannot formulate a hypothesis is only an accountant of phenomena.
The Road to Reason (1948), 77.
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The man who is thoroughly convinced of the universal operation of the law of causation cannot for a moment entertain the idea of a being who interferes in the course of events–provided, of course, that he takes the hypothesis of causality really seriously. He has no use for the religion of fear and equally little for social or moral religion. A God who rewards and punishes is inconceivable to him for the simple reason that a man’s actions are determined by necessity, external and internal, so that in God’s eyes he cannot be responsible, any more than an inanimate object is responsible for the motions it undergoes. Science has therefore been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death.
From 'Religion And Science', as collected in Ideas And Opinions (1954), 39, given its source as: “Written expressly for the New York Times Magazine. Appeared there November 9, 1930 (pp. 1-4). The German text was published in the Berliner Tageblatt, November 11, 1930.” The NYT Magazine article in full, is reprinted in Edward H. Cotton (ed.), Has Science Discovered God? A Symposium of Modern Scientific Opinion (1931), 101. This original version directly from the magazine has significantly different wording, beginning, “For anyone who is pervaded with the sense of causal law….” See this alternate form on the Albert Einstein Quotes page on this website. As for why the difference, Webmaster speculates the book form editor perhaps used a revised translation from Einstein’s German article.
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The materialistic point of view in psychology can claim, at best, only the value of an heuristic hypothesis.
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The mental process by which hypotheses are suggested is obscure. Ordinarily they flash into consciousness without premonition, and it would he easy to ascribe them to a mysterious intuition or creative faculty; but this would contravene one of the broadest generalizations of modern psychology. Just as in the domain of matter nothing is created from nothing, just as in the domain of life there is no spontaneous generation, so in the domain of mind there are no ideas which do not owe their existence to antecedent ideas which stand in the relation of parent to child.
In Address (11 Dec 1895) as President of the Geological Society, 'The Origin of Hypotheses, illustrated by the Discussion of a Topographical Problem', printed as Presidential Address of Grove Karl Gilbert (1896), 4. Also collected in Science (1896), 3, 2.
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The method of inquiry which all our ingenious Theorists of the Earth have pursued is certainly erroneous. They first form an hypothesis to solve the phenomena, but in fact the Phenomena are always used as a prop to the hypothesis.
Instead therefore of attempting to cut the gordian knot by Hypothetical analysis, we shall follow the synthetic method of inquiry and content ourselves with endeavouring to establish facts rather than attempt solutions and try by experiments how far that method may leave us thro' the mazes of this subject
Introduction to his lecture course. In Robert Jameson, edited by H. W. Scott, Lectures on Geology, (1966), 27. In Patrick Wyse Jackson, Four Centuries of Geological Travel (2007), 33.
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The moment one has offered an original explanation for a phenomenon which seems satisfactory, that moment affection for his intellectual child springs into existence, and as the explanation grows into a definite theory his parental affections cluster about his offspring and it grows more and more dear to him. ... There springs up also unwittingly a pressing of the theory to make it fit the facts and a pressing of the facts to make them fit the theory... To avoid this grave danger, the method of multiple working hypotheses is urged. It differs from the simple working hypothesis in that it distributes the effort and divides the affections... In developing the multiple hypotheses, the effort is to bring up into view every rational exploration of the phenomenon in hand and to develop every tenable hypothesis relative to its nature, cause or origin, and to give to all of these as impartially as possible a working form and a due place in the investigation. The investigator thus becomes the parent of a family of hypotheses; and by his parental relations to all is morally forbidden to fasten his affections unduly upon anyone. ... Each hypothesis suggests its own criteria, its own method of proof, its own method of developing the truth, and if a group of hypotheses encompass the subject on all sides, the total outcome of means and of methods is full and rich.
'Studies for Students. The Method of Multiple Working Hypotheses', Journal of Geology (1897), 5, 840-6.
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The more experiences and experiments accumulate in the exploration of nature, the more precarious the theories become. But it is not always good to discard them immediately on this account. For every hypothesis which once was sound was useful for thinking of previous phenomena in the proper interrelations and for keeping them in context. We ought to set down contradictory experiences separately, until enough have accumulated to make building a new structure worthwhile.
Lichtenberg: Aphorisms & Letters (1969), 61.
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The most abstract statements or propositions in science are to be regarded as bundles of hypothetical maxims packed into a portable shape and size. Every scientific fact is a short-hand expression for a vast number of practical directions: if you want so-and-so, do so-and-so.
In 'On The Scientific Basis of Morals', Contemporary Review (Sep 1875), collected in Leslie Stephen and Frederick Pollock (eds.), Lectures and Essays: By the Late William Kingdon Clifford, F.R.S. (1886), 289.
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The most startling result of Faraday’s Law is perhaps this. If we accept the hypothesis that the elementary substances are composed of atoms, we cannot avoid concluding that electricity also, positive as well as negative, is divided into definite elementary portions, which behave like atoms of electricity.
Faraday Lecture (1881). In 'On the Modern Development of Faraday's Conception of Electricity', Journal of the Chemical Society 1881, 39, 290. It is also stated in the book by Laurie M. Brown, Abraham Pais and Brian Pippard, Twentieth Century P, Vol. 1, 52, that this is 'a statement which explains why in subsequent years the quantity e was occasionally referred to in German literature as das Helmholtzsche Elementarquantum'.
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The night before Easter Sunday of that year (1920) I awoke, turned on the light, and jotted down a few notes on a tiny slip of thin paper. Then I fell asleep again. It occurred to me at six o’clock in the morning that during the night I had written down something most important, but I was unable to decipher the scrawl. The next night, at three o’clock, the idea returned. It was the design of an experiment to determine whether the hypothesis of chemical transmission that I had uttered seventeen years ago was correct. I got up immediately, went to the laboratory, and performed a simple experiment on a frog heart according to the nocturnal design. I have to describe this experiment briefly since its results became the foundation of the theory of chemical transmission of the nervous impulse. The hearts of two frogs were isolated, the first with its nerves, the second without. Both hearts were attached to Straub cannulas filled with a little Ringer solution. The vagus nerve of the first heart was stimulated for a few minutes. Then the Ringer solution that had been in the first heart during the stimulation of the vagus was transferred to the second heart. It slowed and its beats diminished just as if its vagus had been stimulated. Similarly, when the accelerator nerve was stimulated and the Ringer from this period transferred, the second heart speeded up and its beats increased. These results unequivocally proved that the nerves do not influence the heart directly but liberate from their terminals specific chemical substances which, in their turn, cause the well-known modifications of the function of the heart characteristic of the stimulation of its nerves.
'An Autobiographic Sketch', Perspectives in Biology and Medicine (1960), 4, 17.
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The number of rational hypotheses that can explain any given phenomenon is infinite.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An inquiry into Values (1974), 107.
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The one who stays in my mind as the ideal man of science is, not Huxley or Tyndall, Hooker or Lubbock, still less my friend, philosopher and guide Herbert Spencer, but Francis Galton, whom I used to observe and listen to—I regret to add, without the least reciprocity—with rapt attention. Even to-day. I can conjure up, from memory’s misty deep, that tall figure with its attitude of perfect physical and mental poise; the clean-shaven face, the thin, compressed mouth with its enigmatical smile; the long upper lip and firm chin, and, as if presiding over the whole personality of the man, the prominent dark eyebrows from beneath which gleamed, with penetrating humour, contemplative grey eyes. Fascinating to me was Francis Galton’s all-embracing but apparently impersonal beneficence. But, to a recent and enthusiastic convert to the scientific method, the most relevant of Galton’s many gifts was the unique contribution of three separate and distinct processes of the intellect; a continuous curiosity about, and rapid apprehension of individual facts, whether common or uncommon; the faculty for ingenious trains of reasoning; and, more admirable than either of these, because the talent was wholly beyond my reach, the capacity for correcting and verifying his own hypotheses, by the statistical handling of masses of data, whether collected by himself or supplied by other students of the problem.
In My Apprenticeship (1926), 134-135.
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The only part of evolution in which any considerable interest is felt is evolution applied to man. A hypothesis in regard to the rocks and plant life does not affect the philosophy upon which one's life is built. Evolution applied to fish, birds and beasts would not materially affect man's view of his own responsibilities except as the acceptance of an unsupported hypothesis as to these would be used to support a similar hypothesis as to man. The evolution that is harmful—distinctly so—is the evolution that destroys man’s family tree as taught by the Bible and makes him a descendant of the lower forms of life. This … is a very vital matter.
'God and Evolution', New York Times (26 Feb 1922), 84. Rebuttals were printed a few days later from Henry Fairfield Osborn and Edwin Grant Conklin.
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The physicist can never subject an isolated hypothesis to experimental test, but only a whole group of hypotheses.
The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory (1906), 2nd edition (1914), trans. Philip P. Wiener (1954), 187.
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The professor may choose familiar topics as a starting point. The students collect material, work problems, observe regularities, frame hypotheses, discover and prove theorems for themselves. … the student knows what he is doing and where he is going; he is secure in his mastery of the subject, strengthened in confidence of himself. He has had the experience of discovering mathematics. He no longer thinks of mathematics as static dogma learned by rote. He sees mathematics as something growing and developing, mathematical concepts as something continually revised and enriched in the light of new knowledge. The course may have covered a very limited region, but it should leave the student ready to explore further on his own.
In A Concrete Approach to Abstract Algebra (1959), 1-2.
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The publication of the Darwin and Wallace papers in 1858, and still more that of the 'Origin' in 1859, had the effect upon them of the flash of light, which to a man who has lost himself in a dark night, suddenly reveals a road which, whether it takes him straight home or not, certainly goes his way. That which we were looking for, and could not find, was a hypothesis respecting the origin of known organic forms, which assumed the operation of no causes but such as could be proved to be actually at work. We wanted, not to pin our faith to that or any other speculation, but to get hold of clear and definite conceptions which could be brought face to face with facts and have their validity tested. The 'Origin' provided us with the working hypothesis we sought.
'On the Reception of the Origin of Species'. In F. Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Including an Autobiographical Chapter (1888), Vol 2, 197.
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The quantum hypothesis will eventually find its exact expression in certain equations which will be a more exact formulation of the law of causality.
In Max Planck and James Vincent Murphy (trans.), Where is Science Going?, (1932), 143.
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The question of the origin of the hypothesis belongs to a domain in which no very general rules can be given; experiment, analogy and constructive intuition play their part here. But once the correct hypothesis is formulated, the principle of mathematical induction is often sufficient to provide the proof.
As co-author with Herbert Robbins, in What Is Mathematics?: An Elementary Approach to Ideas and Methods (1941, 1996), 15.
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The question whether atoms exist or not... belongs rather to metaphysics. In chemistry we have only to decide whether the assumption of atoms is an hypothesis adapted to the explanation of chemical phenomena... whether a further development of the atomic hypothesis promises to advance our knowledge of the mechanism of chemical phenomena... I rather expect that we shall some day find, for what we now call atoms, a mathematico-mechanical explanation, which will render an account of atomic weight, of atomicity, and of numerous other properties of the so-called atoms.
Laboratory (1867), 1, 303.
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