Intellectual Quotes (121 quotes)
A fear of intellectual inadequacy, of powerlessness before the tireless electronic wizards, has given rise to dozens of science-fiction fantasies of computer takeovers. ... Other scientists too are apprehensive. D. Raj Reddy, a computer scientist at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie-Mellon University, fears that universally available microcomputers could turn into formidable weapons. Among other things, says Reddy, sophisticated computers in the wrong hands could begin subverting a society by tampering with people’s relationships with their own computers—instructing the other computers to cut off telephone, bank and other services, for example.
A marveilous newtrality have these things mathematicall, and also a strange participation between things supernaturall, immortall, intellectuall, simple and indivisible, and things naturall, mortall, sensible, componded and divisible.
— John Dee
A multidisciplinary study group ... estimated that it would be 1980 before developments in artificial intelligence make it possible for machines alone to do much thinking or problem solving of military significance. That would leave, say, five years to develop man-computer symbiosis and 15 years to use it. The 15 may be 10 or 500, but those years should be intellectually the most creative and exciting in the history of mankind.
A taxonomy of abilities, like a taxonomy anywhere else in science, is apt to strike a certain type of impatient student as a gratuitous orgy of pedantry. Doubtless, compulsions to intellectual tidiness express themselves prematurely at times, and excessively at others, but a good descriptive taxonomy, as Darwin found in developing his theory, and as Newton found in the work of Kepler, is the mother of laws and theories.
A teacher of mathematics has a great opportunity. If he fills his allotted time with drilling his students in routine operations he kills their interest, hampers their intellectual development, and misuses his opportunity. But if he challenges the curiosity of his students by setting them problems proportionate to their knowledge, and helps them to solve their problems with stimulating questions, he may give them a taste for, and some means of, independent thinking.
A touchstone to determine the actual worth of an “intellectual”—find out how he feels about astrology.
A very sincere and serious freshman student came to my office with a question that had clearly been troubling him deeply. He said to me, ‘I am a devout Christian and have never had any reason to doubt evolution, an idea that seems both exciting and well documented. But my roommate, a proselytizing evangelical, has been insisting with enormous vigor that I cannot be both a real Christian and an evolutionist. So tell me, can a person believe both in God and in evolution?’ Again, I gulped hard, did my intellectual duty, a nd reassured him that evolution was both true and entirely compatible with Christian belief –a position that I hold sincerely, but still an odd situation for a Jewish agnostic.
Although with the majority of those who study and practice in these capacities [engineers, builders, surveyors, geographers, navigators, hydrographers, astronomers], secondhand acquirements, trite formulas, and appropriate tables are sufficient for ordinary purposes, yet these trite formulas and familiar rules were originally or gradually deduced from the profound investigations of the most gifted minds, from the dawn of science to the present day. … The further developments of the science, with its possible applications to larger purposes of human utility and grander theoretical generalizations, is an achievement reserved for a few of the choicest spirits, touched from time to time by Heaven to these highest issues. The intellectual world is filled with latent and undiscovered truth as the material world is filled with latent electricity.
Another advantage of observation is, that we may gain knowledge all the day long, and every moment of our lives, and every moment of our existence, we may be adding to our intellectual treasures thereby.
As one of the elder members of the community of integrative biologists, I am overwhelmingly aware that during this continuing intellectual revolution, seniority is more likely to be correlated with obsolescence than with wisdom.
As there is no study which may be so advantageously entered upon with a less stock of preparatory knowledge than mathematics, so there is none in which a greater number of uneducated men have raised themselves, by their own exertions, to distinction and eminence. … Many of the intellectual defects which, in such cases, are commonly placed to the account of mathematical studies, ought to be ascribed to the want of a liberal education in early youth.
Before any great scientific principle receives distinct enunciation by individuals, it dwells more or less clearly in the general scientific mind. The intellectual plateau is already high, and our discoverers are those who, like peaks above the plateau, rise a little above the general level of thought at the time.
Blind commitment to a theory is not an intellectual virtue: it is an intellectual crime.
Civilisations as yet have only been created and directed by a small intellectual aristocracy, never by crowds. Crowds are only powerful for destruction.
Civilized people can talk about anything. For them no subject is taboo…. In civilized societies there will be no intellectual bogeys at sight of which great grown-up babies are expected to hide their eyes
Difficulties [in defining mathematics with full generality, yet simplicity] are but consequences of our refusal to see that mathematics cannot be defined without acknowledging its most obvious feature: namely, that it is interesting. Nowhere is intellectual beauty so deeply felt and fastidiously appreciated.
Few intellectual tyrannies can be more recalcitrant than the truths that everybody knows and nearly no one can defend with any decent data (for who needs proof of anything so obvious). And few intellectual activities can be more salutary than attempts to find out whether these rocks of ages might crumble at the slightest tap of an informational hammer.
First, the chief character, who is supposed to be a professional astronomer, spends his time fund raising and doing calculations at his desk, rather than observing the sky. Second, the driving force of a scientific project is institutional self-aggrandizement rather than intellectual curiosity.
[About the state of affairs in academia.]
[About the state of affairs in academia.]
For more than half a century, Martin Gardner has been the single brightest beacon defending rationality and good science against the mysticism and anti-intellectualism that surround us.
Good scholars struggle to understand the world in an integral way (pedants bite off tiny bits and worry them to death). These visions of reality ... demand our respect, for they are an intellectual’s only birthright. They are often entirely wrong and always flawed in serious ways, but they must be understood honorably and not subjected to mayhem by the excision of patches.
Great thinkers build their edifices with subtle consistency. We do our intellectual forebears an enormous disservice when we dismember their visions and scan their systems in order to extract a few disembodied ‘gems’–thoughts or claims still accepted as true. These disarticulated pieces then become the entire legacy of our ancestors, and we lose the beauty and coherence of older systems that might enlighten us by their unfamiliarity–and their consequent challenge in our fallible (and complacent) modern world.
He adhered, with a severity most unusual in Indians resident in England, to the religious observances of his caste; but his religion was a matter of observance and not of intellectual conviction, and I remember well his telling me (much to my surprise) that all religions seemed to him more or less equally true.
He who makes two blades of grass grow where one grew before is the benefactor of mankind, but he who obscurely worked to find the laws of such growth is the intellectual superior as well as the greater benefactor of mankind.
I am ashamed to say that C. P. Snow's “two cultures” debate smoulders away. It is an embarrassing and sterile debate, but at least it introduced us to Medawar's essays. Afterwards, not even the most bigoted aesthete doubted that a scientist could be every inch as cultivated and intellectually endowed as a student of the humanities.
I am not insensible to natural beauty, but my emotional joys center on the improbable yet sometimes wondrous works of that tiny and accidental evolutionary twig called Homo sapiens. And I find, among these works, nothing more noble than the history of our struggle to understand nature—a majestic entity of such vast spatial and temporal scope that she cannot care much for a little mammalian afterthought with a curious evolutionary invention, even if that invention has, for the first time in so me four billion years of life on earth, produced recursion as a creature reflects back upon its own production and evolution. Thus, I love nature primarily for the puzzles and intellectual delights that she offers to the first organ capable of such curious contemplation.
I believe in “intelligence,” and I believe also that there are inherited differences in intellectual ability, but I do not believe that intelligence is a simple scalar endowment that can be quantified by attaching a single figure to it—an I.Q. or the like.
I consider it important, indeed urgently necessary, for intellectual workers to get together, both to protect their own economic status and, also, generally speaking, to secure their influence in the political field.
I despair of persuading people to drop the familiar and comforting tactic of dichotomy. Perhaps, instead, we might expand the framework of debates by seeking other dichotomies more appropriate than, or simply different from, the conventional divisions. All dichotomies are simplifications, but the rendition of a conflict along differing axes of several orthogonal dichotomies might provide an amplitude of proper intellectual space without forcing us to forgo our most comforting tool of thought.
I do not think we can impose limits on research. Through hundreds of thousands of years, man’s intellectual curiosity has been essential to all the gains we have made. Although in recent times we have progressed from chance and hit-or-miss methods to consciously directed research, we still cannot know in advance what the results may be. It would be regressive and dangerous to trammel the free search for new forms of truth.
I view the major features of my own odyssey as a set of mostly fortunate contingencies. I was not destined by inherited mentality or family tradition to become a paleontologist. I can locate no tradition for scientific or intellectual careers anywhere on either side of my eastern European Jewish background ... I view my serious and lifelong commitment to baseball in entirely the same manner: purely as a contingent circumstance of numerous, albeit not entirely capricious, accidents.
In my view, aiming at simplicity and lucidity is a moral duty of all intellectuals: lack of clarity is a sin, and pretentiousness is a crime.
In one of my lectures many years ago I used the phrase “following the trail of light”. The word “light” was not meant in its literal sense, but in the sense of following an intellectual concept or idea to where it might lead. My interest in living things is probably a fundamental motivation for the scientific work in the laboratory, and we created here in Berkeley one of the first and foremost interdisciplinary laboratories in the world.
In the mathematics I can report no deficience, except that it be that men do not sufficiently understand the excellent use of the pure mathematics, in that they do remedy and cure many defects in the wit and faculties intellectual. For if the wit be too dull, they sharpen it; if too wandering, they fix it; if too inherent in the sense, they abstract it. So that as tennis is a game of no use in itself, but of great use in respect it maketh a quick eye and a body ready to put itself into all postures; so in the mathematics, that use which is collateral and intervenient is no less worthy than that which is principal and intended.
Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them.
Inventing is the intellectual bicycle that he rides each day.
Is science visionary? Is it not the hardest-headed intellectual discipline we know? How, then, does science look at this universe? Always as a bundle of possibilities. Habitually the scientist looks at this universe and every area in it as a bundle of possibilities, with no telling what might come if we fulfilled the conditions. Thomas Edison was no dreamer. He was a seer. The possibilities that he brought out were factually there. They were there before he saw them. They would have been there if he never had seen them. Always the possibilities are part of the actualities in any given situation.
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.
It is exceptional that one should be able to acquire the understanding of a process without having previously acquired a deep familiarity with running it, with using it, before one has assimilated it in an instinctive and empirical way. Thus any discussion of the nature of intellectual effort in any field is difficult, unless it presupposes an easy, routine familiarity with that field. In mathematics this limitation becomes very severe.
It is not possible for me to purchase intellectual peace at the price of intellectual death.
It is not the fruits of scientific research that elevate man and enrich his nature but the urge to understand, the intellectual work, creative or receptive.
It is of priceless value to the human race to know that the sun will supply the needs of the earth, as to light and heat, for millions of years; that the stars are not lanterns hung out at night, but are suns like our own; and that numbers of them probably have planets revolving around them, perhaps in many cases with inhabitants adapted to the conditions existing there. In a sentence, the main purpose of the science is to learn the truth about the stellar universe; to increase human knowledge concerning our surroundings, and to widen the limits of intellectual life.
It is our great collective misfortune that the scientific community made its decisive diagnosis of the climate threat at the precise moment when an elite minority was enjoying more unfettered political, cultural, and intellectual power than at any point since the 1920s.
It was through living among these groups and much more I think, through moving regularly from one to the other and back again that I got occupied with the problem of what, long before I put it on paper, I christened to myself as the ‘two cultures’. For constantly I felt I was moving among two groups [scientists and literary intellectuals] comparable in intelligence, identical in race, not grossly different in social origin, earning about the same incomes, who had almost ceased to communicate at all, who in intellectual, moral and psychological climate had so little in common that instead of going from Burlington House or South Kensington to Chelsea, one might have crossed an ocean.
It would be difficult to name a man more remarkable for the greatness and the universality of his intellectual powers than Leibnitz.
Knowledge and wonder are the dyad of our worthy lives as intellectual beings. Voyager did wonders for our knowledge, but performed just as mightily in the service of wonder–and the two elements are complementary, not independent or opposed. The thought fills me with awe–a mechanical contraption that could fit in the back of a pickup truck, traveling through space for twelve years, dodging around four giant bodies and their associated moons, and finally sending exquisite photos across more than four light-hours of space from the farthest planet in our solar system.
Marxists are more right than wrong when they argue that the problems scientists take up,. the way they go about solving them, and even the solutions they arc inclined to accept, arc conditioned by the intellectual, social, and economic environments in which they live and work.
Mathematics is not arithmetic. Though mathematics may have arisen from the practices of counting and measuring it really deals with logical reasoning in which theorems—general and specific statements—can be deduced from the starting assumptions. It is, perhaps, the purest and most rigorous of intellectual activities, and is often thought of as queen of the sciences.
Mathematics, from the earliest times to which the history of human reason can reach, has followed, among that wonderful people of the Greeks, the safe way of science. But it must not be supposed that it was as easy for mathematics as for logic, in which reason is concerned with itself alone, to find, or rather to make for itself that royal road. I believe, on the contrary, that there was a long period of tentative work (chiefly still among the Egyptians), and that the change is to be ascribed to a revolution, produced by the happy thought of a single man, whose experiments pointed unmistakably to the path that had to be followed, and opened and traced out for the most distant times the safe way of a science. The history of that intellectual revolution, which was far more important than the passage round the celebrated Cape of Good Hope, and the name of its fortunate author, have not been preserved to us. … A new light flashed on the first man who demonstrated the properties of the isosceles triangle (whether his name was Thales or any other name), for he found that he had not to investigate what he saw in the figure, or the mere concepts of that figure, and thus to learn its properties; but that he had to produce (by construction) what he had himself, according to concepts a priori, placed into that figure and represented in it, so that, in order to know anything with certainty a priori, he must not attribute to that figure anything beyond what necessarily follows from what he has himself placed into it, in accordance with the concept.
My father, the practicing physician, … was a passionate collector of natural objects (amber, shells, minerals, beetles, etc.) and a great friend of the natural sciences. … To my energetic and intellectually vigorous mother I owe an infinite debt.
No idea should be suppressed. … And it applies to ideas that look like nonsense. We must not forget that some of the best ideas seemed like nonsense at first. The truth will prevail in the end. Nonsense will fall of its own weight, by a sort of intellectual law of gravitation. If we bat it about, we shall only keep an error in the air a little longer. And a new truth will go into orbit.
No self is of itself alone. It has a long chain of intellectual ancestors. The ‘I’ is chained to ancestry by many factors ... This is not mere allegory, but an eternal memory.
No substantial part of the universe is so simple that it can be grasped and controlled without abstraction. Abstraction consists in replacing the part of the universe under consideration by a model of similar but simpler structure. Models, formal and intellectual on the one hand, or material on the other, are thus a central necessity of scientific procedure.
Numbers are intellectual witnesses that belong only to mankind.
Of all the intellectual faculties, judgment is the last to arrive at maturity. The child should give its attention either to subjects where no error is possible at all, such as mathematics, or to those in which there is no particular danger in making a mistake, such as languages, natural science, history, and so on.
One of the greatest gifts science has brought to the world is continuing elimination of the supernatural, and it was a lesson that my father passed on to me, that knowledge liberates mankind from superstition. We can live our lives without the constant fear that we have offended this or that deity who must be placated by incantation or sacrifice, or that we are at the mercy of devils or the Fates. With increasing knowledge, the intellectual darkness that surrounds us is illuminated and we learn more of the beauty and wonder of the natural world.
Out of the interaction of form and content in mathematics grows an acquaintance with methods which enable the student to produce independently within certain though moderate limits, and to extend his knowledge through his own reflection. The deepening of the consciousness of the intellectual powers connected with this kind of activity, and the gradual awakening of the feeling of intellectual self-reliance may well be considered as the most beautiful and highest result of mathematical training.
Pondering is intellectual assimilation.
Science as an intellectual exercise enriches our culture, and is in itself ennobling.
Science is a method for testing claims about the natural world, not an immutable compendium of absolute truths. The fundamentalists, by ‘knowing’ the answers before they start, and then forcing nature into the straitjacket of their discredited preconceptions, lie outside the domain of science–or of any honest intellectual inquiry.
Scientific literacy is an intellectual vaccine against the claims of charlatans who would exploit ignorance.
Scientists are entitled to be proud of their accomplishments, and what accomplishments can they call ‘theirs’ except the things they have done or thought of first? People who criticize scientists for wanting to enjoy the satisfaction of intellectual ownership are confusing possessiveness with pride of possession. Meanness, secretiveness and, sharp practice are as much despised by scientists as by other decent people in the world of ordinary everyday affairs; nor, in my experience, is generosity less common among them, or less highly esteemed.
Scratch an intellectual, and you find a would-be aristocrat who loathes the sight, the sound and the smell of common folk.
So long as a man remains a gregarious and sociable being, he cannot cut himself off from the gratification of the instinct of imparting what he is learning, of propagating through others the ideas and impressions seething in his own brain, without stunting and atrophying his moral nature and drying up the surest sources of his future intellectual replenishment.
Society is a republic. When an individual endeavors to lift himself above his fellows, he is dragged down by the mass, either by means of ridicule or of calumny. No one shall be more virtuous or more intellectually gifted than others. Whoever, by the irresistible force of genius, rises above the common herd is certain to be ostracized by society, which will pursue him with such merciless derision and detraction that at last he will be compelled to retreat into the solitude of his thoughts.
The antagonism between science and religion, about which we hear so much, appears to me purely factitious, fabricated on the one hand by short-sighted religious people, who confound theology with religion; and on the other by equally short-sighted scientific people who forget that science takes for its province only that which is susceptible of clear intellectual comprehension.
The attitude of the intellectual community toward America is shaped not by the creative few but by the many who for one reason or another cannot transmute their dissatisfaction into a creative impulse, and cannot acquire a sense of uniqueness and of growth by developing and expressing their capacities and talents. There is nothing in contemporary America that can cure or alleviate their chronic frustration. They want power, lordship, and opportunities for imposing action. Even if we should banish poverty from the land, lift up the Negro to true equality, withdraw from Vietnam, and give half of the national income as foreign aid, they will still see America as an air-conditioned nightmare unfit for them to live in.
The century of biology upon which we are now well embarked is no matter of trivialities. It is a movement of really heroic dimensions, one of the great episodes in man’s intellectual history. The scientists who are carrying the movement forward talk in terms of nucleo-proteins, of ultracentrifuges, of biochemical genetics, of electrophoresis, of the electron microscope, of molecular morphology, of radioactive isotopes. But do not be misled by these horrendous terms, and above all do not be fooled into thinking this is mere gadgetry. This is the dependable way to seek a solution of the cancer and polio problems, the problems of rheumatism and of the heart. This is the knowledge on which we must base our solution of the population and food problems. This is the understanding of life.
The child asks, “What is the moon, and why does it shine?” “What is this water and where does it run?” “What is this wind?” “What makes the waves of the sea?” “Where does this animal live, and what is the use of this plant?” And if not snubbed and stunted by being told not to ask foolish questions, there is no limit to the intellectual craving of a young child; nor any bounds to the slow, but solid, accretion of knowledge and development of the thinking faculty in this way. To all such questions, answers which are necessarily incomplete, though true as far as they go, may be given by any teacher whose ideas represent real knowledge and not mere book learning; and a panoramic view of Nature, accompanied by a strong infusion of the scientific habit of mind, may thus be placed within the reach of every child of nine or ten.
The demand for certainty is one which is natural to man, but is nevertheless an intellectual vice. If you take your children for a picnic on a doubtful day, they will demand a dogmatic answer as to whether it will be fine or wet, and be disappointed in you when you cannot be sure.
The fact is that up to now the free society has not been good for the intellectual. It has neither accorded him a superior status to sustain his confidence nor made it easy for him to acquire an unquestioned sense of social usefulness. For he derives his sense of usefulness mainly from directing, instructing, and planning-from minding other people’s business-and is bound to feel superfluous and neglected where people believe themselves competent to manage individual and communal affairs, and are impatient of supervision and regulation. A free society is as much a threat to the intellectual’s sense of worth as an automated economy is to the workingman’s sense of worth. Any social order that can function with a minimum of leadership will be anathema to the intellectual.
The first quality we know in matter is centrality,—we call it gravity,—which holds the universe together, which remains pure and indestructible in each mote, as in masses and planets, and from each atom rays out illimitable influence. To this material essence answers Truth, in the intellectual world,—Truth, whose centre is everywhere, and its circumference nowhere, whose existence we cannot disimagine,—the soundness and health of things, against which no blow can be struck but it recoils on the striker,—Truth, on whose side we always heartily are. And the first measure of a mind is its centrality, its capacity of truth, and its adhesion to it.
The genuine spirit of Mathesis is devout. No intellectual pursuit more truly leads to profound impressions of the existence and attributes of a Creator, and to a deep sense of our filial relations to him, than the study of these abstract sciences. Who can understand so well how feeble are our conceptions of Almighty Power, as he who has calculated the attraction of the sun and the planets, and weighed in his balance the irresistible force of the lightning? Who can so well understand how confused is our estimate of the Eternal Wisdom, as he who has traced out the secret laws which guide the hosts of heaven, and combine the atoms on earth? Who can so well understand that man is made in the image of his Creator, as he who has sought to frame new laws and conditions to govern imaginary worlds, and found his own thoughts similar to those on which his Creator has acted?
The great object of all knowledge is to enlarge and purify the soul, to fill the mind with noble contemplations, to furnish a refined pleasure, and to lead our feeble reason from the works of nature up to its great Author and Sustainer. Considering this as the ultimate end of science, no branch of it can surely claim precedence of Astronomy. No other science furnishes such a palpable embodiment of the abstractions which lie at the foundation of our intellectual system; the great ideas of time, and space, and extension, and magnitude, and number, and motion, and power. How grand the conception of the ages on ages required for several of the secular equations of the solar system; of distances from which the light of a fixed star would not reach us in twenty millions of years, of magnitudes compared with which the earth is but a foot-ball; of starry hosts—suns like our own—numberless as the sands on the shore; of worlds and systems shooting through the infinite spaces.
The Greeks in the first vigour of their pursuit of mathematical truth, at the time of Plato and soon after, had by no means confined themselves to those propositions which had a visible bearing on the phenomena of nature; but had followed out many beautiful trains of research concerning various kinds of figures, for the sake of their beauty alone; as for instance in their doctrine of Conic Sections, of which curves they had discovered all the principal properties. But it is curious to remark, that these investigations, thus pursued at first as mere matters of curiosity and intellectual gratification, were destined, two thousand years later, to play a very important part in establishing that system of celestial motions which succeeded the Platonic scheme of cycles and epicycles. If the properties of conic sections had not been demonstrated by the Greeks and thus rendered familiar to the mathematicians of succeeding ages, Kepler would probably not have been able to discover those laws respecting the orbits and motions of planets which were the occasion of the greatest revolution that ever happened in the history of science.
The history of mathematics is important also as a valuable contribution to the history of civilization. Human progress is closely identified with scientific thought. Mathematical and physical researches are a reliable record of intellectual progress.
The intellectual craves a social order in which uncommon people perform uncommon tasks every day. He wants a society throbbing with dedication, reverence, and worshiHe sees it as scandalous that the discoveries of science and the feats of heroes should have as their denouement the comfort and affluence of common folk. A social order run by and for the people is to him a mindless organism motivated by sheer physiologism.
The intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups… Literary intellectuals at one pole—at the other scientists, and as the most representative, the physical scientists. Between the two a gulf of mutual incomprehension—sometimes (particularly among the young) hostility and dislike, but most of all lack of understanding.
The invention of the scientific method and science is, I'm sure we'll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked. If it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn't withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn't seem to work like that.
The landed classes neglected technical education, taking refuge in classical studies; as late as 1930, for example, long after Ernest Rutherford at Cambridge had discovered the atomic nucleus and begun transmuting elements, the physics laboratory at Oxford had not been wired for electricity. Intellectual neglect technical education to this day.
[Describing C.P. Snow's observations on the neglect of technical education.]
[Describing C.P. Snow's observations on the neglect of technical education.]
The majority of mathematical truths now possessed by us presuppose the intellectual toil of many centuries. A mathematician, therefore, who wishes today to acquire a thorough understanding of modern research in this department, must think over again in quickened tempo the mathematical labors of several centuries. This constant dependence of new truths on old ones stamps mathematics as a science of uncommon exclusiveness and renders it generally impossible to lay open to uninitiated readers a speedy path to the apprehension of the higher mathematical truths. For this reason, too, the theories and results of mathematics are rarely adapted for popular presentation … This same inaccessibility of mathematics, although it secures for it a lofty and aristocratic place among the sciences, also renders it odious to those who have never learned it, and who dread the great labor involved in acquiring an understanding of the questions of modern mathematics. Neither in the languages nor in the natural sciences are the investigations and results so closely interdependent as to make it impossible to acquaint the uninitiated student with single branches or with particular results of these sciences, without causing him to go through a long course of preliminary study.
The man was such an intellectual he was of almost no use.
The method I take to do this is not yet very usual; for instead of using only comparative and superlative Words, and intellectual Arguments, I have taken the course (as a Specimen of the Political Arithmetic I have long aimed at) to express myself in Terms of Number, Weight, or Measure; to use only Arguments of Sense, and to consider only such Causes, as have visible Foundations in Nature.
The moral faculties are generally and justly esteemed as of higher value than the intellectual powers. But we should bear in mind that the activity of the mind in vividly recalling past impressions is one of the fundamental though secondary bases of conscience. This affords the strongest argument for educating and stimulating in all possible ways the intellectual faculties of every human being.
The native intellectual powers of men in different times, are not so much the causes of the different success of their labours, as the peculiar nature of the means and artificial resources in their possession. Independent of vessels of glass, there could have been no accurate manipulations in common chemistry: the air pump was necessary for live investigation of the properties of gaseous matter; and without the Voltaic apparatus, there was no possibility of examining the relations of electrical polarities to chemical attractions.
The persons who have been employed on these problems of applying the properties of matter and the laws of motion to the explanation of the phenomena of the world, and who have brought to them the high and admirable qualities which such an office requires, have justly excited in a very eminent degree the admiration which mankind feels for great intellectual powers. Their names occupy a distinguished place in literary history; and probably there are no scientific reputations of the last century higher, and none more merited, than those earned by great mathematicians who have laboured with such wonderful success in unfolding the mechanism of the heavens; such for instance as D ’Alembert, Clairaut, Euler, Lagrange, Laplace.
The pupils have got to be made to feel that they are studying something, and are not merely executing intellectual minuets.
The ratio between supervisory and producing personnel is always highest where the intellectuals are in power. In a Communist country it takes half the population to supervise the other half.
The root of the matter the thing I mean is love, Christian love, or compassion. If you feel this, you have a motive for existence, a guide for action, a reason for courage, an imperative necessity for intellectual honesty.
The skein of human continuity must often become this tenuous across the centuries (hanging by a thread, in the old cliche’), but the circle remains unbroken if I can touch the ink of Lavoisier’s own name, written by his own hand. A candle of light, nurtured by the oxygen of his greatest discovery, never burns out if we cherish the intellectual heritage of such unfractured filiation across the ages. We may also wish to contemplate the genuine physical thread of nucleic acid that ties each of us to the common bacterial ancestor of all living creatures, born on Lavoisier’s ancienne terre more than 3.5 billion years ago– and never since disrupted, not for one moment, not for one generation. Such a legacy must be worth preserving from all the guillotines of our folly.
The tool which serves as intermediary between theory and practice, between thought and observation, is mathematics; it is mathematics which builds the linking bridges and gives the ever more reliable forms. From this it has come about that our entire contemporary culture, inasmuch as it is based on the intellectual penetration and the exploitation of nature, has its foundations in mathematics. Already Galileo said: one can understand nature only when one has learned the language and the signs in which it speaks to us; but this language is mathematics and these signs are mathematical figures.
The truly awesome intellectuals in our history have not merely made discoveries; they have woven variegated, but firm, tapestries of comprehensive coverage. The tapestries have various fates: Most burn or unravel in the foot steps of time and the fires of later discovery. But their glory lies in their integrity as unified structures of great complexity and broad implication.
There are diverse views as to what makes a science, but three constituents will be judged essential by most, viz: (1) intellectual content, (2) organization into an understandable form, (3) reliance upon the test of experience as the ultimate standard of validity. By these tests, mathematics is not a science, since its ultimate standard of validity is an agreed-upon sort of logical consistency and provability.
There is no area in our minds reserved for superstition, such as the Greeks had in their mythology; and superstition, under cover of an abstract vocabulary, has revenged itself by invading the entire realm of thought. Our science is like a store filled with the most subtle intellectual devices for solving the most complex problems, and yet we are almost incapable of applying the elementary principles of rational thought. In every sphere, we seem to have lost the very elements of intelligence: the ideas of limit, measure, degree, proportion, relation, comparison, contingency, interdependence, interrelation of means and ends. To keep to the social level, our political universe is peopled exclusively by myths and monsters; all it contains is absolutes and abstract entities. This is illustrated by all the words of our political and social vocabulary: nation, security, capitalism, communism, fascism, order, authority, property, democracy. We never use them in phrases such as: There is democracy to the extent that… or: There is capitalism in so far as… The use of expressions like “to the extent that” is beyond our intellectual capacity. Each of these words seems to represent for us an absolute reality, unaffected by conditions, or an absolute objective, independent of methods of action, or an absolute evil; and at the same time we make all these words mean, successively or simultaneously, anything whatsoever. Our lives are lived, in actual fact, among changing, varying realities, subject to the casual play of external necessities, and modifying themselves according to specific conditions within specific limits; and yet we act and strive and sacrifice ourselves and others by reference to fixed and isolated abstractions which cannot possibly be related either to one another or to any concrete facts. In this so-called age of technicians, the only battles we know how to fight are battles against windmills.
There is no study in the world which brings into more harmonious action all the faculties of the mind than [mathematics], … or, like this, seems to raise them, by successive steps of initiation, to higher and higher states of conscious intellectual being.
There is nothing distinctively scientific about the hypothetico-deductive process. It is not even distinctively intellectual. It is merely a scientific context for a much more general stratagem that underlies almost all regulative processes or processes of continuous control, namely feedback, the control of performance by the consequences of the act performed. In the hypothetico-deductive scheme the inferences we draw from a hypothesis are, in a sense, its logical output. If they are true, the hypothesis need not be altered, but correction is obligatory if they are false. The continuous feedback from inference to hypothesis is implicit in Whewell’s account of scientific method; he would not have dissented from the view that scientific behaviour can be classified as appropriately under cybernetics as under logic.
There’s pretty good evidence that we generally don’t truly want good information—but rather information that confirms our prejudices. We may believe intellectually in the clash of opinions, but in practice we like to embed ourselves in the reassuring womb of an echo chamber.
Thinking is merely the comparing of ideas, discerning relations of likeness and of difference between ideas, and drawing inferences. It is seizing general truths on the basis of clearly apprehended particulars. It is but generalizing and particularizing. Who will deny that a child can deal profitably with sequences of ideas like: How many marbles are 2 marbles and 3 marbles? 2 pencils and 3 pencils? 2 balls and 3 balls? 2 children and 3 children? 2 inches and 3 inches? 2 feet and 3 feet? 2 and 3? Who has not seen the countenance of some little learner light up at the end of such a series of questions with the exclamation, “Why it’s always that way. Isn’t it?” This is the glow of pleasure that the generalizing step always affords him who takes the step himself. This is the genuine life-giving joy which comes from feeling that one can successfully take this step. The reality of such a discovery is as great, and the lasting effect upon the mind of him that makes it is as sure as was that by which the great Newton hit upon the generalization of the law of gravitation. It is through these thrills of discovery that love to learn and intellectual pleasure are begotten and fostered. Good arithmetic teaching abounds in such opportunities.
This is true of all science. Successes were largely due to forgetting completely about what one ultimately wanted, or whether one wanted anything ultimately; in refusing to investigate things which profit, and in relying solely on guidance by criteria of intellectual elegance. … And I think it extremely instructive to watch the role of science in everyday life, and to note how in this area the principle of laissez faire has led to strange and wonderful results.
This theme of mutually invisible life at widely differing scales bears an important implication for the ‘culture wars’ that supposedly now envelop our universities and our intellectual discourse in general ... One side of this false dichotomy features the postmodern relativists who argue that all culturally bound modes of perception must be equally valid, and that no factual truth therefore exists. The other side includes the benighted, old-fashioned realists who insist that flies truly have two wings, and that Shakespeare really did mean what he thought he was saying. The principle of scaling provides a resolution for the false parts of this silly dichotomy. Facts are facts and cannot be denied by any rational being. (Often, facts are also not at all easy to determine or specify–but this question raises different issues for another time.) Facts, however, may also be highly scale dependent–and the perceptions of one world may have no validity or expression in the domain of another. The one-page map of Maine cannot recognize the separate boulders of Acadia, but both provide equally valid representations of a factual coastline.
Thought-economy is most highly developed in mathematics, that science which has reached the highest formal development, and on which natural science so frequently calls for assistance. Strange as it may seem, the strength of mathematics lies in the avoidance of all unnecessary thoughts, in the utmost economy of thought-operations. The symbols of order, which we call numbers, form already a system of wonderful simplicity and economy. When in the multiplication of a number with several digits we employ the multiplication table and thus make use of previously accomplished results rather than to repeat them each time, when by the use of tables of logarithms we avoid new numerical calculations by replacing them by others long since performed, when we employ determinants instead of carrying through from the beginning the solution of a system of equations, when we decompose new integral expressions into others that are familiar,—we see in all this but a faint reflection of the intellectual activity of a Lagrange or Cauchy, who with the keen discernment of a military commander marshalls a whole troop of completed operations in the execution of a new one.
Through countless dimensions, riding high the winds of intellectual adventure and filled with the zest of discovery, the mathematician tracks the heavens for harmony and eternal verity.
To believe that the assertion that God is an explanation (of anything, let alone everything) is intellectually contemptible, for it amounts to an admission of ignorance packaged into the pretence of an explanation. To aver that “God did it” is worse than an admission of ignorance, for it shrouds ignorance in deceit.
Truth and falsity, indeed understanding, is not necessarily something purely intellectual, remote from feelings and attitudes. ... It is in the total conduct of men rather than in their statements that truth or falsehood lives, more in what a man does, in his real reaction to other men and to things, in his will to do them justice, to live at one with them. Here lies the inner connection between truth and justice. In the realm of behavior and action, the problem recurs as to the difference between piece and part.
Very few people, including authors willing to commit to paper, ever really read primary sources–certainly not in necessary depth and contemplation, and often not at all ... When writers close themselves off to the documents of scholarship, and then rely only on seeing or asking, they become conduits and sieves rather than thinkers. When, on the other hand, you study the great works of predecessors engaged in the same struggle, you enter a dialogue with human history and the rich variety of our own intellectual traditions. You insert yourself, and your own organizing powers, into this history–and you become an active agent, not merely a ‘reporter.’
We debase the richness of both nature and our own minds if we view the great pageant of our intellectual history as a compendium of new in formation leading from primal superstition to final exactitude. We know that the sun is hub of our little corner of the universe, and that ties of genealogy connect all living things on our planet, because these theories assemble and explain so much otherwise disparate and unrelated information–not because Galileo trained his telescope on the moons of Jupiter or because Darwin took a ride on a Galápagos tortoise.
We must not forget … that “influence” is not a simple, but on the contrary, a very complex, bilateral relation. We are not influenced by everything we read or learn. In one sense, and perhaps the deepest, we ourselves determine the influences we are submitting to; our intellectual ancestors are by no means given to, but are freely chosen by, us.
We need go back only a few centuries to find the great mass of people depending on religion for the satisfaction of practically all their wishes. From rain out of the sky to good health on earth, they sought their desires at the altars of their gods. Whether they wanted large families, good crops, freedom from pestilence, or peace of mind, they conceived themselves as dependent on the favor of heaven. Then science came with its alternative, competitive method of getting what we want. That is science’s most important attribute. As an intellectual influence it is powerful enough, but as a practical way of achieving man’s desires it is overwhelming.
We often think, naïvely, that missing data are the primary impediments to intellectual progress–just find the right facts and all problems will dissipate. But barriers are often deeper and more abstract in thought. We must have access to the right metaphor, not only to the requisite information. Revolutionary thinkers are not, primarily, gatherers of fact s, but weavers of new intellectual structures.
What intellectual phenomenon can be older, or more oft repeated, than the story of a large research program that impaled itself upon a false central assumption accepted by all practitioners? Do we regard all people who worked within such traditions as dishonorable fools? What of the scientists who assumed that the continents were stable, that the hereditary material was protein, or that all other galaxies lay within the Milky Way? These false and abandoned efforts were pursued with passion by brilliant and honorable scientists. How many current efforts, now commanding millions of research dollars and the full attention of many of our best scientists, will later be exposed as full failures based on false premises?
When one considers how hard it is to write a computer program even approaching the intellectual scope of a good paper, and how much greater time and effort have to be put in to make it “almost” formally correct, it is preposterous to claim that mathematics as we practice it is anywhere near formally correct.
When the interval between the intellectual classes and the practical classes is too great, the former will possess no influence, the latter will reap no benefit.
When you are criticizing the philosophy of an epoch do not chiefly direct your attention to these intellectual positions which its exponents feel it necessary to defend. There will be some fundamental assumption which adherents of all the various systems of the epoch unconsciously presuppose.
Whereas history, literature, art, and even religion, all have national characters and local attachments, science alone of man’s major intellectual interests has no frontiers and no national varieties; that science, like peace, is one and indivisible.
Whether science is seen as genie or devil, the attitude is wrong. We need to get some sort of perspective, so that people understand science is just one more intellectual tool, one more way of knowing enough things to give society a means of living on Earth.
Why does a man want to be a scientist? There are many goals: fame, position, a thirst for understanding. The first two can be attained without intellectual integrity; the third cannot. … The thirst for knowledge, what Thomas Huxley called the ‘Divine dipsomania’, can only be satisfied by complete intellectual integrity. It seems to me the only one of the three goals that continues to reward the pursuer. He presses on, “knowing that Nature never did betray the heart that loved her”. Here is another kind of love, that has so many faces. Love is neither passion, nor pride, nor pity, nor blind adoration, but it can be any or all of these if they are transfigured by deep and unbiased understanding.
Would not [an] uncluttered mind also see the attempts to reconcile science and religion by disparaging the reduction of the complex to the simple as attempts guided by muddle-headed sentiment and intellectually dishonest emotion?
[Cantor’s set theory:] The finest product of mathematical genius and one of the supreme achievements of purely intellectual human activity.
[During the Reformation] The beginnings of the scientific movement were confined to a minority among the intellectual élite.
[E.H.] Moore was presenting a paper on a highly technical topic to a large gathering of faculty and graduate students from all parts of the country. When half way through he discovered what seemed to be an error (though probably no one else in the room observed it). He stopped and re-examined the doubtful step for several minutes and then, convinced of the error, he abruptly dismissed the meeting—to the astonishment of most of the audience. It was an evidence of intellectual courage as well as honesty and doubtless won for him the supreme admiration of every person in the group—an admiration which was in no wise diminished, but rather increased, when at a later meeting he announced that after all he had been able to prove the step to be correct.
[In mathematics] we behold the conscious logical activity of the human mind in its purest and most perfect form. Here we learn to realize the laborious nature of the process, the great care with which it must proceed, the accuracy which is necessary to determine the exact extent of the general propositions arrived at, the difficulty of forming and comprehending abstract concepts; but here we learn also to place confidence in the certainty, scope and fruitfulness of such intellectual activity.
[There was] in some of the intellectual leaders a great aspiration to demonstrate that the universe ran like a piece of clock-work, but this was was itself initially a religious aspiration. It was felt that there would be something defective in Creation itself—something not quite worthy of God—unless the whole system of the universe could be shown to be interlocking, so that it carried the pattern of reasonableness and orderliness. Kepler, inaugurating the scientist’s quest for a mechanistic universe in the seventeenth century, is significant here—his mysticism, his music of the spheres, his rational deity demand a system which has the beauty of a piece of mathematics.