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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index I > Category: Imperfection

Imperfection Quotes (31 quotes)

Omnis perfectio in hac vita quandam imperfectionem sibi habet annexam: et omnis speculatio nostra quadam caligine non caret.
Every perfection in this life has some imperfection clinging to it; and no speculation is without a certain obscurity.
In De Imitatione Christi (1709), Book 1, Chap. 3, 6. As translated in Of the Imitation of Christ (1903), 8.
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According to their [Newton and his followers] doctrine, God Almighty wants to wind up his watch from time to time: otherwise it would cease to move. He had not, it seems, sufficient foresight to make it a perpetual motion. Nay, the machine of God's making, so imperfect, according to these gentlemen; that he is obliged to clean it now and then by an extraordinary concourse, and even to mend it, as clockmaker mends his work.
'Mr. Leibniz's First Paper' (1715). In H. G. Alexander (ed.), The Leibniz-Clarke Correspondence (1956), 11-2.
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All the different classes of beings which taken together make up the universe are, in the ideas of God who knows distinctly their essential gradations, only so many ordinates of a single curve so closely united that it would be impossible to place others between any two of them, since that would imply disorder and imperfection. Thus men are linked with the animals, these with the plants and these with the fossils which in turn merge with those bodies which our senses and our imagination represent to us as absolutely inanimate. And, since the law of continuity requires that when the essential attributes of one being approximate those of another all the properties of the one must likewise gradually approximate those of the other, it is necessary that all the orders of natural beings form but a single chain, in which the various classes, like so many rings, are so closely linked one to another that it is impossible for the senses or the imagination to determine precisely the point at which one ends and the next begins?all the species which, so to say, lie near the borderlands being equivocal, at endowed with characters which might equally well be assigned to either of the neighboring species. Thus there is nothing monstrous in the existence zoophytes, or plant-animals, as Budaeus calls them; on the contrary, it is wholly in keeping with the order of nature that they should exist. And so great is the force of the principle of continuity, to my thinking, that not only should I not be surprised to hear that such beings had been discovered?creatures which in some of their properties, such as nutrition or reproduction, might pass equally well for animals or for plants, and which thus overturn the current laws based upon the supposition of a perfect and absolute separation of the different orders of coexistent beings which fill the universe;?not only, I say, should I not be surprised to hear that they had been discovered, but, in fact, I am convinced that there must be such creatures, and that natural history will perhaps some day become acquainted with them, when it has further studied that infinity of living things whose small size conceals them for ordinary observation and which are hidden in the bowels of the earth and the depth of the sea.
Lettre Prétendue de M. De Leibnitz, à M. Hermann dont M. Koenig a Cité le Fragment (1753), cxi-cxii, trans. in A. O. Lovejoy, Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea (1936), 144-5.
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Every discovery opens a new field for investigation of facts, shows us the imperfection of our theories. It has justly been said, that the greater the circle of light, the greater the boundary of darkness by which it is surrounded.
Humphry Davy and John Davy, 'Consolations in Travel--Dialogue V--The Chemical Philosopher', The Collected Works of Sir Humphry Davy (1840), Vol. 9, 362.
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Evolution is the conviction that organisms developed their current forms by an extended history of continual transformation, and that ties of genealogy bind all living things into one nexus. Panselectionism is a denial of history, for perfection covers the tracks of time. A perfect wing may have evolved to its current state, but it may have been created just as we find it. We simply cannot tell if perfection be our only evidence. As Darwin himself understood so well, the primary proofs of evolution are oddities and imperfections that must record pathways of historical descent–the panda’s thumb and the flamingo’s smile of my book titles (chosen to illustrate this paramount principle of history).
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Evolutionary plasticity can be purchased only at the ruthlessly dear price of continuously sacrificing some individuals to death from unfavourable mutations. Bemoaning this imperfection of nature has, however, no place in a scientific treatment of this subject.
Genetics and the Origin of Species (1937), 127.
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For Nature is accustomed to rehearse with certain large, perhaps baser, and all classes of wild (animals), and to place in the imperfect the rudiments of the perfect animals.
De Pulmonibus (1661), trans. James Young, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine (1929-30), 23, 7.
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Free men are aware of the imperfection inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions, that our freedom, justice, equality, etc. are far from absolute, and that the good life is compounded of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect. The rejection of approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestation of a nihilism that loathes freedom, tolerance, and equity.
In The Temper of Our Time (1967), 103.
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From the infinitely great down to the infinitely small, all things are subject to [the laws of nature]. The sun and the planets follow the laws discovered by Newton and Laplace, just as the atoms in their combinations follow the laws of chemistry, as living creatures follow the laws of biology. It is only the imperfections of the human mind which multiply the divisions of the sciences, separating astronomy from physics or chemistry, the natural sciences from the social sciences. In essence, science is one. It is none other than the truth.
In Cours d’Economie Politique (1896-97).
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I regard it as an inelegance, or imperfection, in quaternions, or rather in the state to which it has been hitherto unfolded, whenever it becomes or seems to become necessary to have recourse to … the resources of ordinary algebra. [x, y, z, etc.]
In Lectures on Quaternions: Containing a Systematic Statement of a New Mathematical Method (1853), 522.
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If we view mathematical speculations with reference to their use, it appears that they should be divided into two classes. To the first belong those which furnish some marked advantage either to common life or to some art, and the value of such is usually determined by the magnitude of this advantage. The other class embraces those speculations which, though offering no direct advantage, are nevertheless valuable in that they extend the boundaries of analysis and increase our resources and skill. Now since many investigations, from which great advantage may be expected, must be abandoned solely because of the imperfection of analysis, no small value should be assigned to those speculations which promise to enlarge the field of anaylsis.
In Novi Comm. Petr., Vol. 4, Preface.
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In completing one discovery we never fail to get an imperfect knowledge of others.
Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air (1774), vii.
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Its [mathematical analysis] chief attribute is clearness; it has no means for expressing confused ideas. It compares the most diverse phenomena and discovers the secret analogies which unite them. If matter escapes us, as that of air and light because of its extreme tenuity, if bodies are placed far from us in the immensity of space, if man wishes to know the aspect of the heavens at successive periods separated by many centuries, if gravity and heat act in the interior of the solid earth at depths which will forever be inaccessible, mathematical analysis is still able to trace the laws of these phenomena. It renders them present and measurable, and appears to be the faculty of the human mind destined to supplement the brevity of life and the imperfection of the senses, and what is even more remarkable, it follows the same course in the study of all phenomena; it explains them in the same language, as if in witness to the unity and simplicity of the plan of the universe, and to make more manifest the unchangeable order which presides over all natural causes.
From Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), Discours Préliminaire, xiv, (Theory of Heat, Introduction), as translated by Alexander Freeman in The Analytical Theory of Heat (1878), 7.
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Knowledge and wisdom are indeed not identical; and every man’s experience must have taught him that there may be much knowledge with little wisdom, and much wisdom with little knowledge. But with imperfect knowledge it is difficult or impossible to arrive at right conclusions. Many of the vices, many of the miseries, many of the follies and absurdities by which human society has been infested and disgraced may be traced to a want of knowledge.
Presidential Address to Anniversary meeting of the Royal Society (30 Nov 1859), Proceedings of the Royal Society of London (1860), 10, 163.
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Many Species of Animals have been lost out of the World, which Philosophers and Divines are unwilling to admit, esteeming the Destruction of anyone Species a Dismembring of the Universe, and rendring the World imperfect; whereas they think the Divine Providence is especially concerned, and solicitous to secure and preserve the Works of the Creation. And truly so it is, as appears, in that it was so careful to lodge all Land Animals in the Ark at the Time of the general Deluge; and in that, of all Animals recorded in Natural Histories, we cannot say that there hath been anyone Species lost, no not of the most infirm, and most exposed to Injury and Ravine. Moreover, it is likely, that as there neither is nor can be any new Species of Animals produced, all proceeding from Seeds at first created; so Providence, without which one individual Sparrow falls not to the ground, doth in that manner watch over all that are created, that an entire Species shall not be lost or destroyed by any Accident. Now, I say, if these Bodies were sometimes the Shells and Bones of Fish, it will thence follow, that many Species have been lost out of the World... To which I have nothing to reply, but that there may be some of them remaining some where or other in the Seas, though as yet they have not come to my Knowledge. Far though they may have perished, or by some Accident been destroyed out of our Seas, yet the Race of them may be preserved and continued still in others.
John Ray
Three Physico-Theological Discourses (1713), Discourse II, 'Of the General Deluge, in the Days of Noah; its Causes and Effects', 172-3.
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Our world is not an optimal place, fine tuned by omnipotent forces of selection. It is a quirky mass of imperfections, working well enough (often admirably); a jury-rigged set of adaptations built of curious parts made available by past histories in different contexts ... A world optimally adapted to current environments is a world without history, and a world without history might have been created as we find it. History matters; it confounds perfection and proves that current life transformed its own past.
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Owing to the imperfection of language the offspring is termed a new animal, but it is in truth a branch or elongation of the parent; since a part of the embryon-animal is, or was, a part of the parent; and therefore in strict language it cannot be said to be entirely new at the time of its production; and therefore it may retain some of the habits of the parent-system. (1794)
Zoonomia, Or, The Laws of Organic Life, in three parts (1803), Vol. 1, 395.
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Science, its imperfections notwithstanding, is the sword in the stone that humanity finally pulled.
In Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998, 1999), 60
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The mathematicians are well acquainted with the difference between pure science, which has only to do with ideas, and the application of its laws to the use of life, in which they are constrained to submit to the imperfections of matter and the influence of accidents.
In Samuel Johnson and W. Jackson Bate (Ed.), ',The Rambler, No. 14, Saturday, 5 May 1750.' The Selected Essays from the Rambler, Adventurer, and Idler (1968), 40.
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The methods of science aren’t foolproof, but they are indefinitely perfectible. Just as important: there is a tradition of criticism that enforces improvement whenever and wherever flaws are discovered. The methods of science, like everything else under the sun, are themselves objects of scientific scrutiny, as method becomes methodology, the analysis of methods. Methodology in turn falls under the gaze of epistemology, the investigation of investigation itself—nothing is off limits to scientific questioning. The irony is that these fruits of scientific reflection, showing us the ineliminable smudges of imperfection, are sometimes used by those who are suspicious of science as their grounds for denying it a privileged status in the truth-seeking department—as if the institutions and practices they see competing with it were no worse off in these regards. But where are the examples of religious orthodoxy being simply abandoned in the face of irresistible evidence? Again and again in science, yesterday’s heresies have become today’s new orthodoxies. No religion exhibits that pattern in its history.
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The noble science of Geology loses glory from the extreme imperfection of the record. The crust of the earth with its embedded remains must not be looked at as a well-filled museum, but as a poor collection made at hazard and at rare intervals.
From On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1861), 423.
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The present state of the system of nature is evidently a consequence of what it was in the preceding moment, and if we conceive of an intelligence that at a given instant comprehends all the relations of the entities of this universe, it could state the respective position, motions, and general affects of all these entities at any time in the past or future. Physical astronomy, the branch of knowledge that does the greatest honor to the human mind, gives us an idea, albeit imperfect, of what such an intelligence would be. The simplicity of the law by which the celestial bodies move, and the relations of their masses and distances, permit analysis to follow their motions up to a certain point; and in order to determine the state of the system of these great bodies in past or future centuries, it suffices for the mathematician that their position and their velocity be given by observation for any moment in time. Man owes that advantage to the power of the instrument he employs, and to the small number of relations that it embraces in its calculations. But ignorance of the different causes involved in the production of events, as well as their complexity, taken together with the imperfection of analysis, prevents our reaching the same certainty about the vast majority of phenomena. Thus there are things that are uncertain for us, things more or less probable, and we seek to compensate for the impossibility of knowing them by determining their different degrees of likelihood. So it was that we owe to the weakness of the human mind one of the most delicate and ingenious of mathematical theories, the science of chance or probability.
'Recherches, 1º, sur l'Intégration des Équations Différentielles aux Différences Finies, et sur leur Usage dans la Théorie des Hasards' (1773, published 1776). In Oeuvres complètes de Laplace, 14 Vols. (1843-1912), Vol. 8, 144-5, trans. Charles Coulston Gillispie, Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827: A Life in Exact Science (1997), 26.
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The sciences have sworn among themselves an inviolable partnership; it is almost impossible to separate them, for they would rather suffer than be torn apart; and if anyone persists in doing so, he gets for his trouble only imperfect and confused fragments. Yet they do not arrive all together, but they hold each other by the hand so that they follow one another in a natural order which it is dangerous to change, because they refuse to enter in any other way where they are called. ...
Les Préludes de l'Harmonie Universelle (1634), 135-139. In Charles Coulston Gillespie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1974), Vol. 9, 316.
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The speculative propositions of mathematics do not relate to facts; … all that we are convinced of by any demonstration in the science, is of a necessary connection subsisting between certain suppositions and certain conclusions. When we find these suppositions actually take place in a particular instance, the demonstration forces us to apply the conclusion. Thus, if I could form a triangle, the three sides of which were accurately mathematical lines, I might affirm of this individual figure, that its three angles are equal to two right angles; but, as the imperfection of my senses puts it out of my power to be, in any case, certain of the exact correspondence of the diagram which I delineate, with the definitions given in the elements of geometry, I never can apply with confidence to a particular figure, a mathematical theorem. On the other hand, it appears from the daily testimony of our senses that the speculative truths of geometry may be applied to material objects with a degree of accuracy sufficient for the purposes of life; and from such applications of them, advantages of the most important kind have been gained to society.
In Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1827), Vol. 3, Chap. 1, Sec. 3, 180.
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The teacher manages to get along still with the cumbersome algebraic analysis, in spite of its difficulties and imperfections, and avoids the smooth infinitesimal calculus, although the eighteenth century shyness toward it had long lost all point.
Elementary Mathematics From an Advanced Standpoint (1908). 3rd edition (1924), trans. E. R. Hedrick and C. A. Noble (1932), Vol. 1, 155.
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The world is not as it was when it came from its Maker’s hands. It has been modified by many great revolutions, brought about by an inner mechanism of which we very imperfectly comprehend the movements; but of which we gain a glimpse by studying their effects: and their many causes still acting on the surface of our globe with undiminished power, which are changing, and will continue to change it, as long as it shall last.
Letter 1 to William Wordsworth. Quoted in the appendix to W. Wordsworth, A Complete Guide to the Lakes, Comprising Minute Direction for the Tourist, with Mr Wordsworth's Description of the Scenery of the County and Three Letters upon the Geology of the Lake District (1841), 6.
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There is a reward structure in science that is very interesting: Our highest honors go to those who disprove the findings of the most revered among us. So Einstein is revered not just because he made so many fundamental contributions to science, but because he found an imperfection in the fundamental contribution of Isaac Newton.
In 'Wonder and Skepticism', Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.
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There is nothing in machinery, there is nothing in embankments and railways and iron bridges and engineering devices to oblige them to be ugly. Ugliness is the measure of imperfection.
repr. In The Works of H.G. Wells, vol. 9 (1925). A Modern Utopia, ch. 3, sct. 8 (1905).
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Thus, we have three principles for increasing adequacy of data: if you must work with a single object, look for imperfections that record historical descent; if several objects are available, try to render them as stages of a single historical process; if processes can be directly observed, sum up their effects through time. One may discuss these principles directly or recognize the ‘little problems’ that Darwin used to exemplify them: orchids, coral reefs, and worms–the middle book, the first, and the last.
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Upon the whole, Chymistry is as yet but an opening science, closely connected with the usefull and ornamental arts, and worthy the attention of the liberal mind. And it must always become more and more so: for though it is only of late, that it has been looked upon in that light, the great progress already made in Chymical knowledge, gives us a pleasant prospect of rich additions to it. The Science is now studied on solid and rational grounds. While our knowledge is imperfect, it is apt to run into error: but Experiment is the thread that will lead us out of the labyrinth.
In Alexander Law, Notes of Black's Lectures, vol. 3, 88. Cited in Charles Coulston Gillispie, Dictionary of Scientific Biography: Volumes 1-2 (1981), 181.
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While Newton seemed to draw off the veil from some of the mysteries of nature, he showed at the same time the imperfections of the mechanical philosophy; and thereby restored her ultimate secrets to that obscurity, in which they ever did and ever will remain.
The History Of Great Britain, Containing the Commonwealth and the Reigns of Charles II. and James II. (2nd ed. 1759), Vol. 2, 450.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
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Bible
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Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
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Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton



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