Interpretation Quotes (53 quotes)
A physical theory remains an empty shell until we have found a reasonable physical interpretation.
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.
An amoeba never is torn apart through indecision, though, for even if two parts of the amoeba are inclined to go in different directions, a choice is always made. We could interpret this as schizophrenia or just confusion, but it could also be a judicious simultaneous sampling of conditions, in order to make a wise choice of future direction.
An experiment in nature, like a text in the Bible, is capable of different interpretations, according to the preconceptions of the interpreter.
Before an experiment can be performed, it must be planned—the question to nature must be formulated before being posed. Before the result of a measurement can be used, it must be interpreted—nature's answer must be understood properly. These two tasks are those of the theorist, who finds himself always more and more dependent on the tools of abstract mathematics. Of course, this does not mean that the experimenter does not also engage in theoretical deliberations. The foremost classical example of a major achievement produced by such a division of labor is the creation of spectrum analysis by the joint efforts of Robert Bunsen, the experimenter, and Gustav Kirchoff, the theorist. Since then, spectrum analysis has been continually developing and bearing ever richer fruit.
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.
Doubtless it is true that while consciousness is occupied in the scientific interpretation of a thing, which is now and again “a thing of beauty,” it is not occupied in the aesthetic appreciation of it. But it is no less true that the same consciousness may at another time be so wholly possessed by the aesthetic appreciation as to exclude all thought of the scientific interpretation. The inability of a man of science to take the poetic view simply shows his mental limitation; as the mental limitation of a poet is shown by his inability to take the scientific view. The broader mind can take both.
Every great advance of science opens our eyes to facts which we had failed before to observe, and makes new demands on our powers of interpretation.
Every great anthropologic and paleontologic discovery fits into its proper place, enabling us gradually to fill out, one after another, the great branching lines of human ascent and to connect with the branches definite phases of industry and art. This gives us a double means of interpretation, archaeological and anatomical. While many branches and links in the chain remain to be discovered, we are now in a position to predict with great confidence not only what the various branches will be like but where they are most like to be found.
Examples ... show how difficult it often is for an experimenter to interpret his results without the aid of mathematics.
Facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away while scientists debate rival theories for explaining them. Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air pending the outcome.
Fractal geometry will make you see everything differently. There is a danger in reading further. You risk the loss of your childhood vision of clouds, forests, flowers, galaxies, leaves, feathers, rocks, mountains, torrents of water, carpet, bricks, and much else besides. Never again will your interpretation of these things be quite the same.
Geology got into the hands of the theoreticians who were conditioned by the social and political history of their day more than by observations in the field. … We have allowed ourselves to be brainwashed into avoiding any interpretation of the past that involves extreme and what might be termed “catastrophic” processes. However, it seems to me that the stratigraphical record is full of examples of processes that are far from “normal” in the usual sense of the word. In particular we must conclude that sedimentation in the past has often been very rapid indeed and very spasmodic. This may be called the “Phenomenon of the Catastrophic Nature of the Stratigraphic Record.”
I remember my first look at the great treatise of Maxwell’s when I was a young man… I saw that it was great, greater and greatest, with prodigious possibilities in its power… I was determined to master the book and set to work. I was very ignorant. I had no knowledge of mathematical analysis (having learned only school algebra and trigonometry which I had largely forgotten) and thus my work was laid out for me. It took me several years before I could understand as much as I possibly could. Then I set Maxwell aside and followed my own course. And I progressed much more quickly… It will be understood that I preach the gospel according to my interpretation of Maxwell.
If I were forced to sum up in one sentence what the Copenhagen interpretation says to me, it would be “Shut up and calculate!”
If science is to progress, what we need is the ability to experiment, honesty in reporting results—the results must be reported without somebody saying what they would like the results to have been—and finally—an important thing—the intelligence to interpret the results.
In order to survive, an animal must be born into a favoring or at least tolerant environment. Similarly, in order to achieve preservation and recognition, a specimen of fossil man must be discovered in intelligence, attested by scientific knowledge, and interpreted by evolutionary experience. These rigorous prerequisites have undoubtedly caused many still-births in human palaeontology and are partly responsible for the high infant mortality of discoveries of geologically ancient man.
In the field one has to face a chaos of facts, some of which are so small that they seem insignificant; others loom so large that they are hard to encompass with one synthetic glance. But in this crude form they are not scientific facts at all; they are absolutely elusive, and can be fixed only by interpretation, by seeing them sub specie aeternitatis, by grasping what is essential in them and fixing this. Only laws and gerneralizations are scientific facts, and field work consists only and exclusively in the interpretation of the chaotic social reality, in subordinating it to general rules.
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.
In the printed page the only real things are the paper and the ink; the white spaces play the same part in aiding the eye to take in the meaning of the print as do the black letters.
In the twenties the late Dr. Glenn Frank, an eminent social scientist, developed a new statement of the scientific code, which has been referred to as the “Five Fingers of the Scientific Method.” It may be outlined as follows: find the facts; filter the facts; focus the facts; face the facts; follow the facts. The facts or truths are found by experimentation; the motivation is material. The facts are filtered by research into the literature; the motivation is material. The facts are focused by the publication of results; again the motivation is material. Thus the first three-fifths of the scientific method have a material motivation. It is about time scientists acknowledge that there is more to the scientific convention than the material aspect. Returning to the fourth and fifth fingers of Dr. Frank's conception of the scientific method, the facts should be faced by the proper interpretation of them for society. In other words, a scientist must assume social responsibility for his discoveries, which means that he must have a moral motivation. Finally, in the fifth definition of the scientific method, the facts are to be followed by their proper application to everyday life in society, which means moral motivation through responsibility to society.
It is for such inquiries the modern naturalist collects his materials; it is for this that he still wants to add to the apparently boundless treasures of our national museums, and will never rest satisfied as long as the native country, the geographical distribution, and the amount of variation of any living thing remains imperfectly known. He looks upon every species of animal and plant now living as the individual letters which go to make up one of the volumes of our earth’s history; and, as a few lost letters may make a sentence unintelligible, so the extinction of the numerous forms of life which the progress of cultivation invariably entails will necessarily render obscure this invaluable record of the past. It is, therefore, an important object, which governments and scientific institutions should immediately take steps to secure, that in all tropical countries colonised by Europeans the most perfect collections possible in every branch of natural history should be made and deposited in national museums, where they may be available for study and interpretation. If this is not done, future ages will certainly look back upon us as a people so immersed in the pursuit of wealth as to be blind to higher considerations. They will charge us with having culpably allowed the destruction of some of those records of Creation which we had it in our power to preserve; and while professing to regard every living thing as the direct handiwork and best evidence of a Creator, yet, with a strange inconsistency, seeing many of them perish irrecoverably from the face of the earth, uncared for and unknown.
It is perhaps just dawning on five or six minds that physics, too, is only an interpretation and exegesis of the world (to suit us, if I may say so!) and not a world-explanation.
It is the task of science, as a collective human undertaking, to describe from the external side, (on which alone agreement is possible), such statistical regularity as there is in a world “in which every event has a unique aspect, and to indicate where possible the limits of such description. It is not part of its task to make imaginative interpretation of the internal aspect of reality—what it is like, for example, to be a lion, an ant or an ant hill, a liver cell, or a hydrogen ion. The only qualification is in the field of introspective psychology in which each human being is both observer and observed, and regularities may be established by comparing notes. Science is thus a limited venture. It must act as if all phenomena were deterministic at least in the sense of determinable probabilities. It cannot properly explain the behaviour of an amoeba as due partly to surface and other physical forces and partly to what the amoeba wants to do, with out danger of something like 100 per cent duplication. It must stick to the former. It cannot introduce such principles as creative activity into its interpretation of evolution for similar reasons. The point of view indicated by a consideration of the hierarchy of physical and biological organisms, now being bridged by the concept of the gene, is one in which science deliberately accepts a rigorous limitation of its activities to the description of the external aspects of events. In carrying out this program, the scientist should not, however, deceive himself or others into thinking that he is giving an account of all of reality. The unique inner creative aspect of every event necessarily escapes him.
Lately we have been getting facts pointing to the “oceanic” nature of the floor of so-called inland seas. Through geological investigations it has been definitely established that in its deepest places, for instance, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, the Earth's crust is devoid of granite stratum. The same may be said quite confidently about the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Could the interpretation of these data be that inland seas were the primary stage of the formation of oceanic basins?
Morphological information has provided the greatest single source of data in the formulation and development of the theory of evolution and that even now, when the preponderance of work is experimental, the basis for interpretation in many areas of study remains the form and relationships of structures.
Our ultimate task is to find interpretative procedures that will uncover each bias and discredit its claims to universality. When this is done the eighteenth century can be formally closed and a new era that has been here a long time can be officially recognised. The individual human being, stripped of his humanity, is of no use as a conceptual base from which to make a picture of human society. No human exists except steeped in the culture of his time and place. The falsely abstracted individual has been sadly misleading to Western political thought. But now we can start again at a point where major streams of thought converge, at the other end, at the making of culture. Cultural analysis sees the whole tapestry as a whole, the picture and the weaving process, before attending to the individual threads.
Over the last century, physicists have used light quanta, electrons, alpha particles, X-rays, gamma-rays, protons, neutrons and exotic sub-nuclear particles for this purpose [scattering experiments]. Much important information about the target atoms or nuclei or their assemblage has been obtained in this way. In witness of this importance one can point to the unusual concentration of scattering enthusiasts among earlier Nobel Laureate physicists. One could say that physicists just love to perform or interpret scattering experiments.
Professor [Max] Planck, of Berlin, the famous originator of the Quantum Theory, once remarked to me that in early life he had thought of studying economics, but had found it too difficult! Professor Planck could easily master the whole corpus of mathematical economics in a few days. He did not mean that! But the amalgam of logic and intuition and the wide knowledge of facts, most of which are not precise, which is required for economic interpretation in its highest form is, quite truly, overwhelmingly difficult for those whose gift mainly consists in the power to imagine and pursue to their furthest points the implications and prior conditions of comparatively simple facts which are known with a high degree of precision.
Psychology, as the behaviorist views it, is a purely objective, experimental branch of natural science which needs introspection as little as do the sciences of chemistry and physics. It is granted that the behavior of animals can be investigated without appeal to consciousness. Heretofore the viewpoint has been that such data have value only in so far as they can be interpreted by analogy in terms of consciousness. The position is taken here that the behavior of man and the behavior of animals must be considered in the same plane.
Quantum theory—at least in the Heisenberg interpretation—describes the way the world works as a literal moment-to-moment emergence of actual facts out of a background of less factual 'potentia.'
Realizing how often ingenious speculation in the complex biological world has led nowhere and how often the real advances in biology as well as in chemistry, physics and astronomy have kept within the bounds of mechanistic interpretation, we geneticists should rejoice, even with our noses on the grindstone (which means both eyes on the objectives), that we have at command an additional means of testing whatever original ideas pop into our heads.
Science deals with judgments on which it is possible to obtain universal agreement. These judgments do not concern individual facts and events, but the invariable association of facts and events known as the laws of science. Agreement is secured by observation and experiment—impartial courts of appeal to which all men must submit if they wish to survive. The laws are grouped and explained by theories of ever increasing generality. The theories at first are ex post facto—merely plausible interpretations of existing bodies of data. However, they frequently lead to predictions that can be tested by experiments and observations in new fields, and, if the interpretations are verified, the theories are accepted as working hypotheses until they prove untenable. The essential requirements are agreement on the subject matter and the verification of predictions. These features insure a body of positive knowledge that can be transmitted from person to person, and that accumulates from generation to generation.
Science is nothing but developed perception, interpreted intent, common sense rounded out, and minutely articulated.
Scientific discovery consists in the interpretation for our own convenience of a system of existence which has been made with no eye to our convenience at all.
Scientists [still] refuse to consider man as an object of scientific scrutiny except through his body. The time has come to realise that an interpretation of the universe—even a positivist one—remains unsatisfying unless it covers the interior as well as the exterior of things; mind as well as matter. The true physics is that which will, one day, achieve the inclusion of man in his wholeness in a coherent picture of the world.
The goal of science is clear—it is nothing short of the complete interpretation of the universe. But the goal is an ideal one—it marks the direction in which we move and strive, but never the point we shall actually reach.
The interpretation of messages from the earth’s interior demands all the resources of ordinary physics and of extraordinary mathematics. The geophysicist is of a noble company, all of whom are reading messages from the untouchable reality of things. The inwardness of things—atoms, crystals, mountains, planets, stars, nebulas, universes—is the quarry of these hunters of genius and Promethean boldness.
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.
The mathematical framework of quantum theory has passed countless successful tests and is now universally accepted as a consistent and accurate description of all atomic phenomena. The verbal interpretation, on the other hand – i.e., the metaphysics of quantum theory – is on far less solid ground. In fact, in more than forty years physicists have not been able to provide a clear metaphysical model.
The mathematical framework of quantum theory has passed countless successful tests and is now universally accepted as a consistent and accurate description of all atomic phenomena. The verbal interpretation, on the other hand, i.e. the metaphysics of quantum physics, is on far less solid ground. In fact, in more than forty years physicists have not been able to provide a clear metaphysical model.
The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it.
Epitaph on Marx's tombstone in Highgate Cemetery.
Epitaph on Marx's tombstone in Highgate Cemetery.
The sciences do not try to explain, they hardly even try to interpret, they mainly make models. By a model is meant a mathematical construct which, with the addition of certain verbal interpretations, describes observed phenomena. The justification of such a mathematical construct is solely and precisely that it is expected to work—that is, correctly to describe phenomena from a reasonably wide area.
The smallest particles of matter were said [by Plato] to be right-angled triangles which, after combining in pairs, ... joined together into the regular bodies of solid geometry; cubes, tetrahedrons, octahedrons and icosahedrons. These four bodies were said to be the building blocks of the four elements, earth, fire, air and water ... [The] whole thing seemed to be wild speculation. ... Even so, I was enthralled by the idea that the smallest particles of matter must reduce to some mathematical form ... The most important result of it all, perhaps, was the conviction that, in order to interpret the material world we need to know something about its smallest parts.
[Recalling how as a teenager at school, he found Plato's Timaeus to be a memorable poetic and beautiful view of atoms.]
[Recalling how as a teenager at school, he found Plato's Timaeus to be a memorable poetic and beautiful view of atoms.]
The true method of discovery is like the flight of an aeroplane. It starts from the ground of particular observation; it makes a flight in the thin air of imaginative generalization; and it again lands for renewed observation rendered acute by rational interpretation.
Though the world does not change with a change of paradigm, the scientist afterward works in a different world... I am convinced that we must learn to make sense of statements that at least resemble these. What occurs during a scientific revolution is not fully reducible to a re-interpretation of individual and stable data. In the first place, the data are not unequivocally stable.
To be creative, scientists need libraries and laboratories and the company of other scientists; certainly a quiet and untroubled life is a help. A scientist's work is in no way deepened or made more cogent by privation, anxiety, distress, or emotional harassment. To be sure, the private lives of scientists may be strangely and even comically mixed up, but not in ways that have any special bearing on the nature and quality of their work. If a scientist were to cut off an ear, no one would interpret such an action as evidence of an unhappy torment of creativity; nor will a scientist be excused any bizarrerie, however extravagant, on the grounds that he is a scientist, however brilliant.
We are living in an age of awesome agricultural enterprise that needs to be interpreted. We find our simple faith in science dominated by the Religion of PhDeism under the reign of Data; so narrow in people and often so meaningless in context as to be worthless to the scientific farmer.
X-rays. Their moral is this—that a right way of looking at things will see through almost anything.
[Describing a freshman seminar titled “How the Tabby Cat Got Her Stripes or The Silence of the Genes”:] The big idea we start with is: “How is the genome interpreted, and how are stable decisions that affect gene expression inherited from one cell to the next? This is one of the most competitive areas of molecular biology at the moment, and the students are reading papers that in some instances were published this past year. As a consequence, one of the most common answers I have to give to their questions is, “We just don't know.”
[The] weakness of biological balance studies has aptly been illustrated by comparison with the working of a slot machine. A penny brings forth one package of chewing gum; two pennies bring forth two. Interpreted according to the reasoning of balance physiology, the first observation is an indication of the conversion of copper into gum; the second constitutes proof.
[Co-author with David Rittenberg (1906-70).]
[Co-author with David Rittenberg (1906-70).]
“I should have more faith,” he said; “I ought to know by this time that when a fact appears opposed to a long train of deductions it invariably proves to be capable of bearing some other interpretation.”
“If there are two theories, one simpler man the other, the simpler one is to be preferred.” At first sight this does not seem quite so bad, but a little thought shows that our tendency to prefer the simpler possibility is psychological rather than scientific. It is less trouble to think that way. Experience invariably shows that the more correct a theory becomes, the more complex does it seem. … So this … interpretation of [Ockham’s Razor] is … worthless.