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Who said: “Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.”
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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index I > Category: Improbability

Improbability Quotes (8 quotes)

Every river appears to consist of a main trunk, fed from a variety of branches, each running in a valley proportional to its size, and all of them together forming a system of vallies, communicating with one another, and having such a nice adjustment of their declivities that none of them join the principal valley on too high or too low a level; a circumstance which would be infinitely improbable if each of these vallies were not the work of the stream that flows in it.
Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth (1802), 102.
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It has occurred to me that possibly the white corpuscles may have the office of picking up and digesting bacterial organisms when by any means they find their way into the blood. The propensity exhibited by the leukocytes for picking up inorganic granules is well known, and that they may be able not only to pick up but to assimilate, and so dispose of, the bacteria which come in their way does not seem to me very improbable in view of the fact that amoebae, which resemble them so closely, feed upon bacteria and similar organisms.
'A Contribution to the Study of the Bacterial Organisms Commonly Found Upon Exposed Mucous Surfaces and in the Alimentary Canal of Healthy Individuals', Studies from the Biological Laboratory (1883), 2, 175.
Science quotes on:  |  Amoeba (20)  |  Assimilation (11)  |  Bacteria (34)  |  Blood (104)  |  Corpuscle (9)  |  Digestion (24)  |  Disposal (5)  |  Feeding (7)  |  Granule (3)  |  Inorganic (13)  |  Leukocyte (2)  |  Organism (150)  |  Propensity (8)  |  Resemblance (21)  |  White (56)

It is probably no exaggeration to suppose that in order to improve such an organ as the eye at all, it must be improved in ten different ways at once. And the improbability of any complex organ being produced and brought to perfection in any such way is an improbability of the same kind and degree as that of producing a poem or a mathematical demonstration by throwing letters at random on a table.
[Expressing his reservations about Darwin's proposed evolution of the eye by natural selection.]
Opening address to the Belfast Natural History Society, as given in the 'Belfast Northern Whig,' (19 Nov 1866). As cited by Charles Darwin in The Variation of Animals & Plants Under Domestication (1868), 222.
Science quotes on:  |  Bring (90)  |  Complex (95)  |  Demonstration (86)  |  Eye (222)  |  Improve (56)  |  Letter (51)  |  Mathematics (1205)  |  Organ (64)  |  Perfection (89)  |  Poem (92)  |  Produce (102)  |  Random (25)  |  Throw (43)

Natural selection is a mechanism for generating an exceedingly high degree of improbability.
This is not a verbatim quote, but it is a summary of Fisher’s idea, as appearing without quotation marks in the words of the editor, Julian Huxley, in J.S. Huxley, A.C. Hardy and E.B. Ford (eds.), Evolution as a Process (1954), 5. The lengthier quote is from Fisher’s full essay 'Retrospect of the Criticisms of the Theory of Natural Selection' which appears in the same book on p.91. See it elsewhere in this site’s collection, as the Fisher quote that begins: “It was Darwin’s chief contribution…”.
Science quotes on:  |  Mechanism (52)  |  Natural Selection (90)

Simultaneous discovery is utterly commonplace, and it was only the rarity of scientists, not the inherent improbability of the phenomenon, that made it remarkable in the past. Scientists on the same road may be expected to arrive at the same destination, often not far apart.
From review '[Arthur] Koestler’s Theory of the Creative Act: “The Act of Creation”', in New Statesman (19 Jun 1964). According to Michael Scammell in his biography (Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic (2009), 491 and 654), Medawar eviscerated the book as “amateurish” with “overstretched metaphors” and “fatuous epigrams” while Koestler’s psychological insights were “in the style of the nineteenth century.” The review, with follow-ups, were reprinted in Medawar’s The Art of the Soluble: Creativity and Originality in Science (1967), 85-98.
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That our being should consist of two fundamental elements [physical and psychical] offers I suppose no greater inherent improbability than that it should rest on one only.
The Integrative Action of the Nervous System (1947), Foreword to 1947 Edition, xx.
Science quotes on:  |  Element (162)  |  Fundamental (164)  |  Inherent (30)

The essence of life is statistical improbability on a colossal scale.
In The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design (1986), 317.
Science quotes on:  |  Colossal (12)  |  Essence (55)  |  Life (1131)  |  Scale (63)  |  Statistics (147)

The future is too interesting and dangerous to be entrusted to any predictable, reliable agency. We need all the fallibility we can get. Most of all, we need to preserve the absolute unpredictability and total improbability of our connected minds. That way we can keep open all the options, as we have in the past.
In 'Computers', The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974), 132-133.
Science quotes on:  |  Absolute (98)  |  Agency (14)  |  Connected (8)  |  Dangerous (60)  |  Entrust (2)  |  Fallibility (2)  |  Future (287)  |  Interesting (48)  |  Mind (760)  |  Need (287)  |  Option (9)  |  Predictable (10)  |  Preserve (52)  |  Reliable (12)  |  Unpredictability (7)

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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