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Who said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
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Model Quotes (54 quotes)

... one of the main functions of an analogy or model is to suggest extensions of the theory by considering extensions of the analogy, since more is known about the analogy than is known about the subject matter of the theory itself … A collection of observable concepts in a purely formal hypothesis suggesting no analogy with anything would consequently not suggest either any directions for its own development.
'Operational Definition and Analogy in Physical Theories', British Journal for the Philosophy of Science (Feb 1952), 2, No. 8, 291.
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Hab’s aans g’sehn?
Have you ever seen one?
As called out from the audience at one of Ludwig Boltzmann’s lectures on atoms, and his frequent retort upon any mention of the atom having electron orbits. He was a fierce critic and held that science should stick to only phenomena directly observable by the senses. This quote is seen widely, without citation. For example, in Daniel Greenberger, ‎Klaus Hentschel and ‎Friedel Weinert, Compendium of Quantum Physics: Concepts, Experiments, History and Philosophy (2009), 615.
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Les Leucocytes Et L'esprit De Sacrifice. — Il semble, d'après les recherches de De Bruyne (Phagocytose, 1895) et de ceux qui le citent, que les leucocytes des Lamellibranches — probablement lorsqu'ils ont phagocyté, qu'ils se sont chargés de résidus et de déchets, qu'ils ont, en un mot, accompli leur rôle et bien fait leur devoir — sortent du corps de l'animal et vont mourir dans le milieu ambiant. Ils se sacrifient. Après avoir si bien servi l'organisme par leur activité, ils le servent encore par leur mort en faisant place aux cellules nouvelles, plus jeunes.
N'est-ce pas la parfaite image du désintéressement le plus noble, et n'y a-t-il point là un exemple et un modèle? Il faut s'en inspirer: comme eux, nous sommes les unités d'un grand corps social; comme eux, nous pouvons le servir et envisager la mort avec sérénité, en subordonnant notre conscience individuelle à la conscience collective.
(30 Jan 1896)
Leukocytes and The Spirit Of Sacrifice. - It seems, according to research by De Bruyne (Phagocytosis, 1885) and those who quote it, that leukocytes of Lamellibranches [bivalves] - likely when they have phagocytized [ingested bacteria], as they become residues and waste, they have, in short, performed their role well and done their duty - leave the body of the animal and will die in the environment. They sacrifice themselves. Having so well served the body by their activities, they still serve in their death by making room for new younger cells.
Isn't this the perfect image of the noblest selflessness, and thereby presents an example and a model? It should be inspiring: like them, we are the units of a great social body, like them, we can serve and contemplate death with equanimity, subordinating our individual consciousness to collective consciousness.
In Recueil d'Œuvres de Léo Errera: Botanique Générale (1908), 194. Google translation by Webmaster. Please give feedback if you can improve it.
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A theory has only the alternative of being right or wrong. A model has a third possibility: it may be right, but irrelevant.
Manfred Eigen, 'The Origin of Biological Information', in Jagdish Mehra (ed.), The Physicists's Conception of Nature (1973), 618.
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About 6 or 8 years ago My Ingenious friend Mr John Robinson having [contrived] conceived that a fire engine might be made without a Lever—by Inverting the Cylinder & placing it above the mouth of the pit proposed to me to make a model of it which was set about by having never Compleated & I [being] having at that time Ignorant little knoledge of the machine however I always thought the Machine Might be applied to [more] other as valuable purposes [than] as drawing Water.
Entry in notebook (1765). The bracketed words in square brackets were crossed out by Watt. in Eric Robinson and Douglas McKie (eds.), Partners in Science: Letters of James Watt and Joseph Black (1970), 434.
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As a boy I had liked both drawing and physics, and I always abhorred the role of being a spectator. In 1908, when I was 15, I designed, built and flew a toy model airplane which won the then-famous James Gordon Bennett Cup. By 16 I had discovered that design could be fun and profitable, and this lesson has never been lost on me.
On the official Raymond Loewry website.
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Astronomy teaches the correct use of the sun and the planets. These may be put on a frame of little sticks and turned round. This causes the tides. Those at the ends of the sticks are enormously far away. From time to time a diligent searching of the sticks reveals new planets. The orbit of the planet is the distance the stick goes round in going round. Astronomy is intensely interesting; it should be done at night, in a high tower at Spitzbergen. This is to avoid the astronomy being interrupted. A really good astronomer can tell when a comet is coming too near him by the warning buzz of the revolving sticks.
Literary Lapses (1928), 128.
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Because of the way it came into existence, the solar system has only one-way traffic—like Piccadilly Circus. … If we want to make a model to scale, we must take a very tiny object, such as a pea, to represent the sun. On the same scale the nine planets will be small seeds, grains of sand and specks of dust. Even so, Piccadilly Circus is only just big enough to contain the orbit of Pluto. … The whole of Piccadilly Circus was needed to represent the space of the solar system, but a child can carry the whole substance of the model in its hand. All the rest is empty space.
In The Stars in Their Courses (1931, 1954), 49-50 & 89.
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Behold the mighty dinosaur,
Famous in prehistoric lore,
Not only for his power and strength
But for his intellectual length.
You will observe by these remains
The creature had two sets of brains—
One in his head (the usual place),
The other at his spinal base.
Thus he could reason 'A priori'
As well as 'A posteriori'.
No problem bothered him a bit
He made both head and tail of it.
So wise was he, so wise and solemn,
Each thought filled just a spinal column.
If one brain found the pressure strong
It passed a few ideas along.
If something slipped his forward mind
'Twas rescued by the one behind.
And if in error he was caught
He had a saving afterthought.
As he thought twice before he spoke
He had no judgment to revoke.
Thus he could think without congestion
Upon both sides of every question.
Oh, gaze upon this model beast
Defunct ten million years at least.
'The Dinosaur: A Poem' (1912). In E. H. Colbert (ed.), The Dinosaur Book (1951), 78.
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Da Vinci was as great a mechanic and inventor as were Newton and his friends. Yet a glance at his notebooks shows us that what fascinated him about nature was its variety, its infinite adaptability, the fitness and the individuality of all its parts. By contrast what made astronomy a pleasure to Newton was its unity, its singleness, its model of a nature in which the diversified parts were mere disguises for the same blank atoms.
From The Common Sense of Science (1951), 25.
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Do these models give a pointer to God? The steady-state universe, the Hawking model... and the infinitely oscillating model decidedly do not. One might almost regard them as models manufactured for a Society of Atheists.
'From Entropy to God', in K. Martinas, L. Ropolyi and P. Szegedi (eds.) Thermodynamics: History and Philosophy: Facts, Trends, Debates (1991), 386.
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Even if a scientific model, like a car, has only a few years to run before it is discarded, it serves its purpose for getting from one place to another.
In 'Complex Clocks', Digestive Diseases and Sciences (1983), 28, 1139.
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Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?
A Brief History of Time (1998), 190.
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From man or angel the great Architect did wisely to conceal, and not divulge his secrets to be scanned by them who ought rather admire; or if they list to try conjecture, he his fabric of the heavens left to their disputes, perhaps to move his laughter at their quaint opinions wide hereafter, when they come to model heaven calculate the stars, how they will wield the mighty frame, how build, unbuild, contrive to save appearances, how gird the sphere with centric and eccentric scribbled o’er, and epicycle, orb in orb.
Paradise Lost (1674, 1754), Book 8, 231.
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His [Marvin Minsky’s] basic interest seemed to be in the workings of the human mind and in making machine models of the mind. Indeed, about that time he and a friend made one of the first electronic machines that could actually teach itself to do something interesting. It monitored electronic “rats” that learned to run mazes. It was being financed by the Navy. On one notable occasion, I remember descending to the basement of Memorial Hall, while Minsky worked on it. It had an illuminated display panel that enabled one to follow the progress of the “rats.” Near the machine was a hamster in a cage. When the machine blinked, the hamster would run around its cage happily. Minsky, with his characteristic elfin grin, remarked that on a previous day the Navy contract officer had been down to see the machine. Noting the man’s interest in the hamster, Minsky had told him laconically, “The next one we build will look like a bird.”
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Human nature is not a machine to be built after a model, and set to do exactly the work prescribed for it, but a tree, which requires to grow and develop itself on all sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing.
From On Liberty (1859), 107.
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I am never content until I have constructed a mechanical model of the subject I am studying. If I succeed in making one, I understand. Otherwise, I do not. [Attributed; source unverified.]
Note: Webmaster has been unable to verify this quotation allegedly from his Baltimore Lectures. Is is widely quoted, usually without citation. A few instances indicate the quote came from a guest lecture, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore (1884). The lecture notes were published in Baltimore Lectures on Molecular Dynamics and the Wave Theory of Light (1904). Webmaster has found no citation giving a page number, and has been unable to find the quote in that text. Anyone with more specific information, please contact Webmaster.
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I can never satisfy myself until I can make a mechanical model of a thing. If I can make a mechanical model, I can understand it. As long as I cannot make a mechanical model all the way through I cannot understand.
From stenographic report by A.S. Hathaway of the Lecture 20 Kelvin presented at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, on 'Molecular Dynamics and the Wave Theory of Light' (1884), 270-271. (Hathaway was a Mathematics fellow there.) This remark is not included in the first typeset publication—a revised version, printed twenty years later, in 1904, as Lord Kelvin’s Baltimore Lectures on Molecular Dynamics and the Wave Theory of Light. The original notes were reproduced by the “papyrograph” process. They are excerpted in Pierre Maurice Marie Duhem, Essays in the History and Philosophy of Science (1996), 55.
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I grew up in Japan and Hong Kong and then came to the States. Japan was a huge influence on me because, as a child, I would hear the oxcarts come and collect our sewage at night out of our house from the latrine and then take it off to the farms as fertilizer. And then the food would come back in oxcarts during the day. I always had this sort of “our poop became food” mental model. The idea of “waste equals food” was pretty inculcated, that everything was precious and the systems were coherent and cyclical.
In interview with Kerry A. Dolan, 'William McDonough On Cradle-to-Cradle Design', Forbes (4 Aug 2010)
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I really see no harm which can come of giving our children a little knowledge of physiology. ... The instruction must be real, based upon observation, eked out by good explanatory diagrams and models, and conveyed by a teacher whose own knowledge has been acquired by a study of the facts; and not the mere catechismal parrot-work which too often usurps the place of elementary teaching.
Science and Culture (1882), 92.
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I should like to compare this rearrangement which the proteins undergo in the animal or vegetable organism to the making up of a railroad train. In their passage through the body parts of the whole may be left behind, and here and there new parts added on. In order to understand fully the change we must remember that the proteins are composed of Bausteine united in very different ways. Some of them contain Bausteine of many kinds. The multiplicity of the proteins is determined by many causes, first through the differences in the nature of the constituent Bausteine; and secondly, through differences in the arrangement of them. The number of Bausteine which may take part in the formation of the proteins is about as large as the number of letters in the alphabet. When we consider that through the combination of letters an infinitely large number of thoughts may be expressed, we can understand how vast a number of the properties of the organism may be recorded in the small space which is occupied by the protein molecules. It enables us to understand how it is possible for the proteins of the sex-cells to contain, to a certain extent, a complete description of the species and even of the individual. We may also comprehend how great and important the task is to determine the structure of the proteins, and why the biochemist has devoted himself with so much industry to their analysis.
'The Chemical Composition of the Cell', The Harvey Lectures (1911), 7, 45.
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In this model, the sun is a very tiny speck of dust indeed—a speck less than a three-thousandth of an inch in diameter ... Think of the sun as something less than a speck of dust in a vast city, of the earth as less than a millionth part of such a speck of dust, and we have perhaps as vivid a picture as the mind can really grasp of the relation of our home in space to the rest of the universe.
In The Universe Around Us (1953), 96.
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It is frivolous to fix pedantically the date of particular inventions. They have all been invented over and over fifty times. Man is the arch machine, of which all these shifts drawn from himself are toy models. He helps himself on each emergency by copying or duplicating his own structure, just so far as the need is.
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It seems to me, he says, that the test of “Do we or not understand a particular subject in physics?” is, “Can we make a mechanical model of it?” I have an immense admiration for Maxwell’s model of electromagnetic induction. He makes a model that does all the wonderful things that electricity docs in inducing currents, etc., and there can be no doubt that a mechanical model of that kind is immensely instructive and is a step towards a definite mechanical theory of electromagnetism.
From stenographic report by A.S. Hathaway of the Lecture 20 Kelvin presented at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, on 'Molecular Dynamics and the Wave Theory of Light' (1884), 132. (Hathaway was a Mathematics fellow there.) This remark is not included in the first typeset publication—a revised version, printed twenty years later, in 1904, as Lord Kelvin’s Baltimore Lectures on Molecular Dynamics and the Wave Theory of Light. The original notes were reproduced by the “papyrograph” process. They are excerpted in Pierre Maurice Marie Duhem, Essays in the History and Philosophy of Science (1996), 54-55.
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Leo Szilard’s Ten Commandments:
1. Recognize the connections of things and the laws of conduct of men, so that you may know what you are doing.
2. Let your acts be directed towards a worthy goal, but do not ask if they will reach it; they are to be models and examples, not means to an end.
3. Speak to all men as you do to yourself, with no concern for the effect you make, so that you do not shut them out from your world; lest in isolation the meaning of life slips out of sight and you lose the belief in the perfection of the creation.
4. Do not destroy what you cannot create.
5. Touch no dish, except that you are hungry.
6. Do not covet what you cannot have.
7. Do not lie without need.
8. Honor children. Listen reverently to their words and speak to them with infinite love.
9. Do your work for six years; but in the seventh, go into solitude or among strangers, so that the memory of your friends does not hinder you from being what you have become.
10. Lead your life with a gentle hand and be ready to leave whenever you are called.
Circulated by Mrs. Szilard in July 1964, in a letter to their friends (translated by Dr. Jacob Bronowski). As printed in Robert J. Levine, Ethics and Regulation of Clinical Research (1988), 431.
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Let us dismiss the question, “Have you proven that your model is valid?” with a quick NO. Then let us take up the more rewarding and far more challenging question: “Have you proven that your model is useful for learning more… ” [Co-author]
In J.B. Mankin, R.V. O’Neill, H.H. Shugart and B.W. Rust, 'The Importance of Validation in Ecosystem Analysis', in: G.S. Innis (ed.), New Directions in the Analysis of Ecological Systems (1977), Part I, 69.
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Mathematics is much more than a language for dealing with the physical world. It is a source of models and abstractions which will enable us to obtain amazing new insights into the way in which nature operates. Indeed, the beauty and elegance of the physical laws themselves are only apparent when expressed in the appropriate mathematical framework.
In Principles of Electrodynamics (1972, 1987), 105.
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Miss Stevens’s work is characterized by its precision, and by a caution that seldom ventures far from the immediate observation. Her contributions are models of brevity—a brevity amounting at times almost to meagerness.
In obituary, 'The Scientific Work of Miss N.M. Steves', Science (11 Oct 1912), 36, No. 928, 470.
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Much scientific truth proved to be as hypothetical as poetic allegory. The relationshiip of those rod-connected blue and red balls to an actual atomic structure was about the same as the relationship of Christianity to the fish or the Lamb.
Another Roadside Attraction (1990), 240.
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My picture of the world is drawn in perspective and not like a model to scale. The foreground is occupied by human beings and the stars are all as small as three-penny bits. I don't really believe in astronomy, except as a complicated description of part of the course of human and possibly animal sensation. I apply my perspective not merely to space but also to time. In time the world will cool and everything will die; but that is a long time off still and its present value at compound discount is almost nothing.
From a paper read to the Apostles, a Cambridge discussion society (1925). In 'The Foundations of Mathematics' (1925), collected in Frank Plumpton Ramsey and D. H. Mellor (ed.), Philosophical Papers (1990), Epilogue, 249. Citation to the paper, in Nils-Eric Sahlin, The Philosophy of F.P. Ramsey (1990), 225.
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One of the most insidious and nefarious properties of scientific models is their tendency to take over, and sometimes supplant, reality.
Quoted in J. J. Zuckerman, 'The Coming Renaissance of Descriptive Chemistry', Journal of Chemical Education, 1986, 63, 830.
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Our model of Nature should not be like a building—a handsome structure for the populace to admire, until in the course of time some one takes away a corner stone and the edifice comes toppling down. It should be like an engine with movable parts. We need not fix the position of any one lever; that is to be adjusted from time to time as the latest observations indicate. The aim of the theorist is to know the train of wheels which the lever sets in motion—that binding of the parts which is the soul of the engine.
In 'The Internal Constitution of the Stars', The Scientific Monthly (Oct 1920), 11, No. 4, 302.
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Pauling was shocked by the freedom with which the X-ray crystallographers of the time, including particularly Astbury, played with the intimate chemical structure of their models. They seemed to think that if the atoms were arranged in the right order and about the right distance apart, that was all that mattered, that no further restrictions need to be put on them.
Quoted by John Law in 'The Case of X-ray Protein Crystallography', collected in Gerard Lemaine (ed.), Perspectives on the Emergence of Scientific Disciplines, 1976, 140.
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Remember that all models are wrong; the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful. [Co-author with Norman R. Draper]
In George E.P. Box and Norman R. Draper, Empirical Model-Building and Response Surfaces (1987), 74.
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Science is the art of the appropriate approximation. While the flat earth model is usually spoken of with derision it is still widely used. Flat maps, either in atlases or road maps, use the flat earth model as an approximation to the more complicated shape.
In 'On the Nature of Science', Physics in Canada (Jan/Feb 2007), 63, No. 1, 13.
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Science is the construction of parsimonious, internally consistent models that can reliably predict future observations.
As quoted in Mark Buchanan, 'Thesis: Madness in the Method', Nature Physics (1 Feb 2009), 5, No. 2, 83.
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String theorists can explain plausible models of a unified universe, but unfortunately they cannot explain why we inhabit a particular one
In Book Review 'Pulling the Strings,' of Lawrence Krauss's Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Lure of Extra Dimensions, from Plato to String Theory and Beyond in Nature (22 Dec 2005), 438, 1082.
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The kinetic concept of motion in classical theory will have to undergo profound modifications. (That is why I also avoided the term “orbit” in my paper throughout.) … We must not bind the atoms in the chains of our prejudices—to which, in my opinion, also belongs the assumption that electron orbits exist in the sense of ordinary mechanics—but we must, on the contrary, adapt our concepts to experience.
Letter to Niels Bohr (12 Dec 1924), in K. von Meyenn (ed.), Wolfgang Pauli - Wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz (1979), Vol. 1, 188. Quoted and cited in Daniel Greenberger, ‎Klaus Hentschel and ‎Friedel Weinert, Compendium of Quantum Physics: Concepts, Experiments, History and Philosophy (2009), 615.
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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.
In The Tao of Physics (1975), 132.
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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.
In The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics (1975), 132.
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The people of Sydney who can speak of my work [on flying-machine models] without a smile are very scarce; it is doubtless the same with American workers. I know that success is dead sure to come, and therefore do not waste time and words in trying to convince unbelievers.
As quoted in Octave Chanute, Progress in Flying Machines (1894), 231.
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The purpose of models is not to fit the data but to sharpen the questions.
Delivered at the Eleventh R. A. Fisher Memorial Lecture, Royal Society (20 April 1983). In Carl C. Gaither and Alma E. Cavazos-Gaither, Statistically Speaking: a Dictionary of Quotations (1996), 140.
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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.
'Method in the Physical Sciences', in The Unity of Knowledge, editted by L. Leary (1955), 158. Reprinted in John Von Neumann, F. Bródy (ed.) and Tibor Vámos (ed.), The Neumann Compendium (2000), 628.
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Therefore, these [geotectonic] models cannot be expected to assume that the deeper parts of the earth’s crust were put together and built in a simpler way. The myth about the increasing simplicity with depth results from a general pre-scientific trend according to which the unknown or little known has to be considered simpler than the known. Many examples of this myth occur in the history of geology as, for instance, the development of views on the nature of the seafloor from the past to the present.
In 'Stockwerktektonik und Madelle van Esteinsdifferentiation', in Geotektonisches Symposium zu Ehren von Hans Stille, als Festschrift zur Vollendung seines 80, Lebensjahres (1956), 17, trans. Albert V. and Marguerite Carozzi.
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This whole theory of electrostatics constitutes a group of abstract ideas and general propositions, formulated in the clear and precise language of geometry and algebra, and connected with one another by the rules of strict logic. This whole fully satisfies the reason of a French physicist and his taste for clarity, simplicity and order. The same does not hold for the Englishman. These abstract notions of material points, force, line of force, and equipotential surface do not satisfy his need to imagine concrete, material, visible, and tangible things. 'So long as we cling to this mode of representation,' says an English physicist, 'we cannot form a mental representation of the phenomena which are really happening.' It is to satisfy the need that he goes and creates a model.
The French or German physicist conceives, in the space separating two conductors, abstract lines of force having no thickness or real existence; the English physicist materializes these lines and thickens them to the dimensions of a tube which he will fill with vulcanised rubber. In place of a family of lines of ideal forces, conceivable only by reason, he will have a bundle of elastic strings, visible and tangible, firmly glued at both ends to the surfaces of the two conductors, and, when stretched, trying both to contact and to expand. When the two conductors approach each other, he sees the elastic strings drawing closer together; then he sees each of them bunch up and grow large. Such is the famous model of electrostatic action imagined by Faraday and admired as a work of genius by Maxwell and the whole English school.
The employment of similar mechanical models, recalling by certain more or less rough analogies the particular features of the theory being expounded, is a regular feature of the English treatises on physics. Here is a book* [by Oliver Lodge] intended to expound the modern theories of electricity and to expound a new theory. In it are nothing but strings which move around pulleys, which roll around drums, which go through pearl beads, which carry weights; and tubes which pump water while others swell and contract; toothed wheels which are geared to one another and engage hooks. We thought we were entering the tranquil and neatly ordered abode of reason, but we find ourselves in a factory.
*Footnote: O. Lodge, Les Théories Modernes (Modern Views on Electricity) (1889), 16.
The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory (1906), 2nd edition (1914), trans. Philip P. Wiener (1954), 70-1.
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To try to make a model of an atom by studying its spectrum is like trying to make a model of a grand piano by listening to the noise it makes when thrown downstairs.
In Oliver Lodge in Atoms and Rays (1924), 74.
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To-day we not only have no perfect model [of the atom] but we know that it is of no use to search for one.
In Physics and Philosophy (1942, 1955), 10.
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Until now, physical theories have been regarded as merely models with approximately describe the reality of nature. As the models improve, so the fit between theory and reality gets closer. Some physicists are now claiming that supergravity is the reality, that the model and the real world are in mathematically perfect accord.
Superforce (1984, 1985), 149.
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We must remember that all our [models of flying machine] inventions are but developments of crude ideas; that a commercially successful result in a practically unexplored field cannot possibly be got without an enormous amount of unremunerative work. It is the piled-up and recorded experience of many busy brains that has produced the luxurious travelling conveniences of to-day, which in no way astonish us, and there is no good reason for supposing that we shall always be content to keep on the agitated surface of the sea and air, when it is possible to travel in a superior plane, unimpeded by frictional disturbances.
Paper to the Royal Society of New South Wales (4 Jun 1890), as quoted in Octave Chanute, Progress in Flying Machines (1894), 2226.
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While seeing any number of black crows does not prove all the crows are black, seeing one white crow disproves it. Thus science proceeds not by proving models correct but by discarding false ones or improving incomplete ones.
In 'On the Nature of Science', Physics in Canada (Jan/Feb 2007), 63, No. 1, 7.
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[My favourite fellow of the Royal Society is the Reverend Thomas Bayes, an obscure 18th-century Kent clergyman and a brilliant mathematician who] devised a complex equation known as the Bayes theorem, which can be used to work out probability distributions. It had no practical application in his lifetime, but today, thanks to computers, is routinely used in the modelling of climate change, astrophysics and stock-market analysis.
Quoted in Max Davidson, 'Bill Bryson: Have faith, science can solve our problems', Daily Telegraph (26 Sep 2010)
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[To elucidate using models] the different combining powers in elementary atoms, I … select my illustrations from that most delightful of games, croquet. Let the croquet balls represent our atoms, and let us distinguish the atoms of different elements by different colours. The white balls are hydrogen, the green ones chlorine atoms; the atoms of fiery oxygen are red, those of nitrogen, blue; the carbon atoms, lastly, are naturally represented by black balls. But we have, in addition, exhibit the different combining powers of these atoms … by screwing into the balls a number of metallic arms (tubes and pins), which correspond respectively to the combining powers of the atoms represented … to join the balls … in imitation of the atomic edifices represented.
Paper presented at the Friday Discourse of the the Royal Institution (7 Apr 1865). 'On the Combining Power of Atoms', Proceedings of the Royal Institution (1865), 4, No. 42, 416.
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[We should] abandon all attempts to construct perceptual models of atomic processes.
In Physics and Beyond (1971), 76.
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…all models are approximations. Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful. However, the approximate nature of the model must always be borne in mind… [Co-author with Norman R. Draper]
In George E.P. Box, Norman R. Draper, Response Surfaces, Mixtures, and Ridge Analyses (2nd ed. 2007), 414.
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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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