Modify Quotes (11 quotes)
Contingency is rich and fascinating; it embodies an exquisite tension between the power of individuals to modify history and the intelligible limits set by laws of nature. The details of individual and species’s lives are not mere frills, without power to shape the large-scale course of events, but particulars that can alter entire futures, profoundly and forever.
First, [Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation] is mathematical in its expression…. Second, it is not exact; Einstein had to modify it…. There is always an edge of mystery, always a place where we have some fiddling around to do yet…. But the most impressive fact is that gravity is simple…. It is simple, and therefore it is beautiful…. Finally, comes the universality of the gravitational law and the fact that it extends over such enormous distances…
It does appear that on the whole a physicist… tries to reduce his theory at all times to as few parameters as possible and is inclined to feel that a theory is a “respectable” one, though by no means necessarily correct, if in principle it does offer reasonably specific means for its possible refutation. Moreover the physicist will generally arouse the irritation amongst fellow physicists if he is not prepared to abandon his theory when it clashes with subsequent experiments. On the other hand it would appear that the chemist regards theories—or perhaps better his theories (!) —as far less sacrosanct, and perhaps in extreme cases is prepared to modify them continually as each bit of new experimental evidence comes in.
No creature is too bulky or formidable for man's destructive energies—none too minute and insignificant for his keen detection and skill of capture. It was ordained from the beginning that we should be the masters and subduers of all inferior animals. Let us remember, however, that we ourselves, like the creatures we slay, subjugate, and modify, are the results of the same Almighty creative will—temporary sojourners here, and co-tenants with the worm and the whale of one small planet. In the exercise, therefore, of those superior powers that have been intrusted to us, let us ever bear in mind that our responsibilities are heightened in proportion.
The books of the great scientists are gathering dust on the shelves of learned libraries. ... While the artist's communication is linked forever with its original form, that of the scientist is modified, amplified, fused with the ideas and results of others and melts into the stream of knowledge and ideas which forms our culture. The scientist has in common with the artist only this: that he can find no better retreat from the world than his work and also no stronger link with the world than his work.
The Gombe Stream chimpanzees … in their ability to modify a twig or stick to make it suitable for a definite purpose, provide the first examples of free-ranging nonhuman primates actually making very crude tools.
The living being is stable. It must be so in order not to be destroyed, dissolved, or disintegrated by the colossal forces, often adverse, which surround it. By apparent contradiction it maintains its stability only if it is excitable and capable of modifying itself according to external stimuli and adjusting its response to the stimulation. In a sense it is stable because it is modifiable—the slight instability is the necessary condition for the true stability of the organism.
The scientific method is a potentiation of common sense, exercised with a specially firm determination not to persist in error if any exertion of hand or mind can deliver us from it. Like other exploratory processes, it can be resolved into a dialogue between fact and fancy, the actual and the possible; between what could be true and what is in fact the case. The purpose of scientific enquiry is not to compile an inventory of factual information, nor to build up a totalitarian world picture of Natural Laws in which every event that is not compulsory is forbidden. We should think of it rather as a logically articulated structure of justifiable beliefs about nature. It begins as a story about a Possible World—a story which we invent and criticise and modify as we go along, so that it ends by being, as nearly as we can make it, a story about real life.
There are three stages in the development of science: First, there is the observation of things and facts—the scientists map out and inventory the objects in each department of Nature; secondly, the interrelations are investigated, and this leads to a knowledge of forces and influences which produce or modify those objects…. This is the dynamic stage, the discovery of forces and laws connecting each fact with all other facts, and each province of Nature with all other provinces of Nature. The goal of this second stage of science is to make each fact in Nature throw light on all the other facts, and thus to illuminate each by all. … Science in its third and final stage learns to know everything in Nature as a part of a process which it studies in the history of its development. When it comes to see each thing in the perspective of its evolution, it knows it and comprehends it.
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. [p.222]
What is found in biology is mechanisms, mechanisms built with chemical components and that are often modified by other, later, mechanisms added to the earlier ones.