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Observation Quotes (555 quotes)


... there is an external world which can in principle be exhaustively described in scientific language. The scientist, as both observer and language-user, can capture the external facts of the world in prepositions that are true if they correspond to the facts and false if they do not. Science is ideally a linguistic system in which true propositions are in one-to-one relation to facts, including facts that are not directly observed because they involve hidden entities or properties, or past events or far distant events. These hidden events are described in theories, and theories can be inferred from observation, that is the hidden explanatory mechnism of the world can be discovered from what is open to observation. Man as scientist is regarded as standing apart from the world and able to experiment and theorize about it objectively and dispassionately.
'Introduction', Revolutions and Reconstructions in the Philosophy of Science (1981), xii. In John Templeton and Robert L. Herrmann, Is God the Only Reality (1994), 11-12.
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...learning chiefly in mathematical sciences can so swallow up and fix one's thought, as to possess it entirely for some time; but when that amusement is over, nature will return, and be where it was, being rather diverted than overcome by such speculations.
An Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England (1850), 154
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...they have never affirm'd any thing, concerning the Cause, till the Trial was past: whereas, to do it before, is a most venomous thing in the making of Sciences; for whoever has fix'd on his Cause, before he experimented; can hardly avoid fitting his Experiment to his Observations, to his own Cause, which he had before imagin'd; rather than the Cause to the Truth of the Experiment itself.
Referring to experiments of the Aristotelian mode, whereby a preconceived truth would be illustrated merely to convince people of the validity of the original thought.
Thomas Sprat, Abraham Cowley, History of the Royal Society (1667, 1734), 108.
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Ac kynde wit cometh
Of alle kynnes syghtes,
Of briddes and of beestes,
Of tastes of truthe and of deceites.

Mother-Wit comes from all kinds of experiences,
Of birds and beasts and of tests both true and false.
In William Langland and B. Thomas Wright (ed.) The Vision and Creed of Piers Ploughman (1842), 235. Modern translation by Terrence Tiller in Piers Plowman (1981, 1999), 123.
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Dans les champs de l’observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés.
In the field of observation, chance favours only the prepared mind.
Inaugural Address as newly appointed Professor and Dean (Sep 1854) at the opening of the new Faculté des Sciences at Lille (7 Dec 1854). In René Vallery-Radot, The Life of Pasteur, translated by Mrs. R. L. Devonshire (1919), 76.
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En un mot, pour tirer la loi de l'expérience, if faut généraliser; c'est une nécessité qui s'impose à l'observateur le plus circonspect.
In one word, to draw the rule from experience, one must generalize; this is a necessity that imposes itself on the most circumspect observer.
La valeur de la science. In Anton Bovier, Statistical Mechanics of Disordered Systems (2006), 186.
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Forging differs from hoaxing, inasmuch as in the later the deceit is intended to last for a time, and then be discovered, to the ridicule of those who have credited it; whereas the forger is one who, wishing to acquire a reputation for science, records observations which he has never made.
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830). In Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao, Statistics and Truth (1997), 84.
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He who doth with the greatest exactness imaginable, weigh every individual thing that shall or hath hapned to his Patient, and may be known from the Observations of his own, or of others, and who afterwards compareth all these with one another, and puts them in an opposite view to such Things as happen in a healthy State; and lastly, from all this with the nicest and severest bridle upon his reasoning faculty riseth to the knowledge of the very first Cause of the Disease, and of the Remedies fit to remove them; He, and only He deserveth the Name of a true Physician.
Aphorism No. 13 in Boerhaave’s Aphorisms: Concerning The Knowledge and Cure of Diseases (1715), 3.
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Les causes primordiales ne nous sont point connues; mais elles sont assujetties à des lois simples et constantes, que l’on peut découvrir par l’observation, et dont l’étude est l’objet de la philosophie naturelle.
Primary causes are unknown to us; but are subject to simple and constant laws, which may be discovered by observation, the study of them being the object of natural philosophy.
Opening statement from 'Discours Préliminaire' to Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), i, translated by Alexander Freeman in The Analytical Theory of Heat (1878), 1.
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Lyveris to-forn us
Useden to marke
For selkouthes that thei seighen,
Hir sones for to teche;
And helden it an heigh science
Hir wittes to knowe.
Ac thorugh hir science soothly
Was nevere no soule y-saved,
Ne broght by hir bokes
To blisse ne to joye;
For alle hir kynde knowynges
Come but of diverse sightes.
Patriarkes and prophetes
Repreveden hir science,
And seiden hir wordes and hir wisdomes
Nas but a folye
And to the clergie of Crist
Counted it but a trufle.

Our ancestors in olden days used to record
The strange things they saw, and teach them to their sons;
And they held it a high science, to have knowledge of such things.
But no soul was ever saved by all that science,
Nor brought by books into eternal bliss;
Their science was only a series of sundry observations.
So patriarchs and prophets disapproved of their science,
And said their so-called words of wisdom were but folly—
And compared with Christian philosophy, a contemptible thing.
In William Langland and B. Thomas Wright (ed.) The Vision and Creed of Piers Ploughman (1842), 235-236. Modern translation by Terrence Tiller in Piers Plowman (1981, 1999), 123.
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Notatio naturae, et animadversio perperit artem
Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature.
In Jon R. Stone, The Routledge Dictionary of Latin Quotations (2005), 78.
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Of Cooking. This is an art of various forms, the object of which is to give ordinary observations the appearance and character of those of the highest degree of accuracy. One of its numerous processes is to make multitudes of observations, and out of these to select only those which agree, or very nearly agree. If a hundred observations are made, the cook must be very unhappy if he cannot pick out fifteen or twenty which will do for serving up.
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830). In Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao, Statistics and Truth (1997), 84.
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Question: How would you disprove, experimentally, the assertion that white light passing through a piece of coloured glass acquires colour from the glass? What is it that really happens?
Answer: To disprove the assertion (so repeatedly made) that “white light passing through a piece of coloured glass acquires colour from the glass,” I would ask the gentleman to observe that the glass has just as much colour after the light has gone through it as it had before. That is what would really happen.
Genuine student answer* to an Acoustics, Light and Heat paper (1880), Science and Art Department, South Kensington, London, collected by Prof. Oliver Lodge. Quoted in Henry B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders (1893), 178, Question 8. (*From a collection in which Answers are not given verbatim et literatim, and some instances may combine several students' blunders.)
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Qui est de nous & qui seul peut nous égarer; à le mettre continuellement à épreuve de l'expérience; à ne conserver que les faits qui ne font que des données de la nature , & qui ne peuvent nous tromper; à ne chercher la vérité que dans l'enchaînement naturel des expériences & des observations
We must trust to nothing but facts: These are presented to us by Nature, and cannot deceive. We ought, in every instance, to submit our reasoning to the test of experiment, and never to search for truth but by the natural road of experiment and observation.
From the original French in Traité élémentaire de chimie (1789, 1793), discours préliminaire, x; and from edition translated into English by Robert Kerr, as Elements of Chemistry (1790), Preface, xviii.
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Rassemblons des faits pour nous donner des idées.
Let us gather facts in order to get ourselves thinking.
'Histoire des Animaux', Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière, avec la Description du Cabinet du Roi (1749), Vol. 2, 18. Quoted in Jacques Roger, The Life Sciences in Eighteenth- Century French Thought, ed. Keith R. Benson and trans. Robert Ellrich (1997), 440.
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That was excellently observ'd, say I, when I read a Passage in an Author, where his Opinion agrees with mine. When we differ, there I pronounce him to be mistaken.
In 'Thoughts On Various Subjects' (1727), collected in The Works of Jonathan Swift (1746), Vol. 1, 318.
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Tout le monde convient maintenant qu’une Physique d’où l'on banniroit tout ce qui peut avoir quelque rapport avec les mathématiques, pour se borner à un simple recueil d’observations & d’experiences, ne seroit qu’un amusement historique, plus propre à récréer un cercle de personnes oisives, qu’à occuper un esprit véritablement philosophique.
Everyone now agrees that a Physics where you banish all relationship with mathematics, to confine itself to a mere collection of experiences and observations, would be but an historical amusement, more fitting to entertain idle people, than to engage the mind of a true philosopher.
In Dictionnaire de Physique (1781), Vol. 8, 209. English version via Google Translate, tweaked by Webmaster. Also seen translated as—“Everyone now agrees that a physics lacking all connection with mathematics…would only be an historical amusement, fitter for entertaining the idle than for occupying the mind of a philosopher”—in John L. Heilbron, Electricity in the 17th and 18th centuries: A Study of Early Modern Physics (1979), 74. In the latter source, the subject quote immediately follows a different one by Franz Karl Achard. An editor misreading that paragraph is the likely reason the subject quote will be found in Oxford Dictionary of Science Quotations attributed to Achard. Webmaster checked the original footnoted source, and corrected the author of this entry to Paulian (16 May 2014).
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Trimming consists of clipping off little bits here and there from those observations which differ most in excess from the mean, and in sticking them onto those which are too small; a species of 'equitable adjustment,' as a radical would term it, which cannot be admitted in science.
'On the Frauds of Observers', Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830). In Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao, Statistics and Truth (1997), 84.
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Une idée anticipée ou une hypothèse est donc le point de départ nécessaire de tout raisonnement expérimental. Sans cela on ne saurait faire aucune investigation ni s’instruire ; on ne pourrait qu’entasser des observations stériles. Si l’on expérimentait sans idée préconçue, on irait à l’aventure; mais d’un autre côté, ainsi que nous l’avons dit ailleurs, si l’on observait avec des idées préconçues, on ferait de mauvaises observations.
An anticipative idea or an hypothesis is, then, the necessary starting point for all experimental reasoning. Without it, we could not make any investigation at all nor learn anything; we could only pile up sterile observations. If we experimented without a preconceived idea, we should move at random.
[Also seen translated as:] A hypothesis is … the obligatory starting point of all experimental reasoning. Without it no investigation would be possible, and one would learn nothing: one could only pile up barren observations. To experiment without a preconceived idea is to wander aimlessly.
Original work in French, Introduction à l'Étude de la Médecine Expérimentale (1865). English translation by Henry Copley Green in An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1927, 1957), 32. Alternate translation in Peter Medawar, 'Hypothesis and Imagination', collected in The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice and Other Classic Essays on Science (1974), 30.
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[Colonel Ross:] “Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
[Sherlock Holmes:] “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident.”
Fiction from 'XIII—The Adventure of the Silver Blaze', Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, in The Strand Magazine: An Illustrated Monthly (Dec 1892), Vol. 4, 656-657.
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[Sherlock Holmes:] The temptation to form premature theories upon insufficient data is the bane of our profession.
In The Valley of Fear (1914), 43.
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A careful analysis of the process of observation in atomic physics has shown that the subatomic particles have no meaning as isolated entities, but can only be understood as interconnections between the preparation of an experiment and the subsequent measurement.
The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics (1975), 68.
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A casual glance at crystals may lead to the idea that they were pure sports of nature, but this is simply an elegant way of declaring one's ignorance. With a thoughtful examination of them, we discover laws of arrangement. With the help of these, calculation portrays and links up the observed results. How variable and at the same time how precise and regular are these laws! How simple they are ordinarily, without losing anything of their significance! The theory which has served to develop these laws is based entirely on a fact, whose existence has hitherto been vaguely discerned rather than demonstrated. This fact is that in all minerals which belong to the same species, these little solids, which are the crystal elements and which I call their integrant molecules, have an invariable form, in which the faces lie in the direction of the natural fracture surfaces corresponding to the mechanical division of the crystals. Their angles and dimensions are derived from calculations combined with observation.
Traité de mineralogie ... Publié par le conseil des mines (1801), Vol. 1, xiii-iv, trans. Albert V. and Marguerite Carozzi.
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A little science is something that they must have. I should like my nephews to know what air is, and water; why we breathe, and why wood burns; the nutritive elements essential to plant life, and the constituents of the soil. And it is no vague and imperfect knowledge from hearsay I would have them gain of these fundamental truths, on which depend agriculture and the industrial arts and our health itself; I would have them know these things thoroughly from their own observation and experience. Books here are insufficient, and can serve merely as aids to scientific experiment.
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A modern branch of mathematics, having achieved the art of dealing with the infinitely small, can now yield solutions in other more complex problems of motion, which used to appear insoluble. This modern branch of mathematics, unknown to the ancients, when dealing with problems of motion, admits the conception of the infinitely small, and so conforms to the chief condition of motion (absolute continuity) and thereby corrects the inevitable error which the human mind cannot avoid when dealing with separate elements of motion instead of examining continuous motion. In seeking the laws of historical movement just the same thing happens. The movement of humanity, arising as it does from innumerable human wills, is continuous. To understand the laws of this continuous movement is the aim of history. … Only by taking an infinitesimally small unit for observation (the differential of history, that is, the individual tendencies of man) and attaining to the art of integrating them (that is, finding the sum of these infinitesimals) can we hope to arrive at the laws of history.
War and Peace (1869), Book 11, Chap. 1.
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A natural law regulates the advance of science. Where only observation can be made, the growth of knowledge creeps; where laboratory experiments can be carried on, knowledge leaps forward.
[Attributed, probably incorrectly]
Seen in various places, but Webmaster has found none with a source citation, and doubts the authenticity, because none found with attribution to Faraday prior to 1950. The earliest example Webmaster found is in 1929, by Walter Morley Fletcher in his Norman Lockyer Lecture. He refers to it as a “truism,” without mention of Faraday. He says “law of our state of being” rather than “natural law.” See the Walter Morley Fletcher page for more details.
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A physician’s subject of study is necessarily the patient, and his first field for observation is the hospital. But if clinical observation teaches him to know the form and course of diseases, it cannot suffice to make him understand their nature; to this end he must penetrate into the body to find which of the internal parts are injured in their functions. That is why dissection of cadavers and microscopic study of diseases were soon added to clinical observation. But to-day these various methods no longer suffice; we must push investigation further and, in analyzing the elementary phenomena of organic bodies, must compare normal with abnormal states. We showed elsewhere how incapable is anatomy alone to take account of vital phenenoma, and we saw that we must add study of all physico-chemical conditions which contribute necessary elements to normal or pathological manifestations of life. This simple suggestion already makes us feel that the laboratory of a physiologist-physician must be the most complicated of all laboratories, because he has to experiment with phenomena of life which are the most complex of all natural phenomena.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 140-141.
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A scientific observation is always a committed observation. It confirms or denies one’s preconceptions, one’s first ideas, one’s plan of observation. It shows by demonstration. It structures the phenomenon. It transcends what is close at hand. It reconstructs the real after having reconstructed its representation.
In The New Scientific Spirit (1934).
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About thirty years ago there was much talk that geologists ought only to observe and not theorise; and I well remember some one saying that at this rate a man might as well go into a gravel-pit and count the pebbles and describe the colours. How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service!
Letter to Henry Fawcett (18 Sep 1861). In Charles Darwin, Francis Darwin, Albert Charles Seward, More Letters of Charles Darwin (1903), Vol. 1, 195.
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According to Herr Cook's observation, the inhabitants of New Guinea have something they set light to which burns up almost like gunpowder. They also put it into hollow staves, and from a distance you could believe they are shooting. But it does not produce so much as a bang. Presumably they are trying to imitate the Europeans. They have failed to realize its real purpose.
Aphorism 27 in Notebook D (1773-1775), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 48.
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Accuracy of observation is the equivalent of accuracy of thinking.
Adagia. In Opus Postumous: Poems, Plays, Prose (1958), 158.
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Alas, your dear friend and servant is totally blind. Henceforth this heaven, this universe, which by wonderful observations I had enlarged by a hundred and a thousand times beyond the conception of former ages, is shrunk for me into the narrow space which I myself fill in it. So it pleases God; it shall therefore please me also.
In Letter, as quoted in Sir Oliver Lodge, Pioneers of Science (1905), 133.
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All our knowledge derived from observation … is knowledge gotten at first hand. Hereby we see and know things as they are, or as they appear to us; we take the impressions of them on our minds from the original objects themselves which give a clearer and stronger conception of things.
In Interesting Anecdotes, Memoirs, Allegories, Essays, and Poetical Fragments (1793), Vols 3-4, Vol 4, 72.
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All the different classes of beings which taken together make up the universe are, in the ideas of God who knows distinctly their essential gradations, only so many ordinates of a single curve so closely united that it would be impossible to place others between any two of them, since that would imply disorder and imperfection. Thus men are linked with the animals, these with the plants and these with the fossils which in turn merge with those bodies which our senses and our imagination represent to us as absolutely inanimate. And, since the law of continuity requires that when the essential attributes of one being approximate those of another all the properties of the one must likewise gradually approximate those of the other, it is necessary that all the orders of natural beings form but a single chain, in which the various classes, like so many rings, are so closely linked one to another that it is impossible for the senses or the imagination to determine precisely the point at which one ends and the next begins?all the species which, so to say, lie near the borderlands being equivocal, at endowed with characters which might equally well be assigned to either of the neighboring species. Thus there is nothing monstrous in the existence zoophytes, or plant-animals, as Budaeus calls them; on the contrary, it is wholly in keeping with the order of nature that they should exist. And so great is the force of the principle of continuity, to my thinking, that not only should I not be surprised to hear that such beings had been discovered?creatures which in some of their properties, such as nutrition or reproduction, might pass equally well for animals or for plants, and which thus overturn the current laws based upon the supposition of a perfect and absolute separation of the different orders of coexistent beings which fill the universe;?not only, I say, should I not be surprised to hear that they had been discovered, but, in fact, I am convinced that there must be such creatures, and that natural history will perhaps some day become acquainted with them, when it has further studied that infinity of living things whose small size conceals them for ordinary observation and which are hidden in the bowels of the earth and the depth of the sea.
Lettre Prétendue de M. De Leibnitz, à M. Hermann dont M. Koenig a Cité le Fragment (1753), cxi-cxii, trans. in A. O. Lovejoy, Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea (1936), 144-5.
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All the knowledge we have of nature depends upon facts; for without observations and experiments our natural philosophy would only be a science of terms and an unintelligible jargon.
First sentence of 'Preface', Course of Experimental Philosophy (1745), Vol. 1, v.
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Almost all the greatest discoveries in astronomy have resulted from what we have elsewhere termed Residual Phenomena, of a qualitative or numerical kind, of such portions of the numerical or quantitative results of observation as remain outstanding and unaccounted for, after subducting and allowing for all that would result from the strict application of known principles.
Outlines of Astronomy (1876), 626.
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Almost everyone... seems to be quite sure that the differences between the methodologies of history and of the natural sciences are vast. For, we are assured, it is well known that in the natural sciences we start from observation and proceed by induction to theory. And is it not obvious that in history we proceed very differently? Yes, I agree that we proceed very differently. But we do so in the natural sciences as well.
In both we start from myths—from traditional prejudices, beset with error—and from these we proceed by criticism: by the critical elimination of errors. In both the role of evidence is, in the main, to correct our mistakes, our prejudices, our tentative theories—that is, to play a part in the critical discussion, in the elimination of error. By correcting our mistakes, we raise new problems. And in order to solve these problems, we invent conjectures, that is, tentative theories, which we submit to critical discussion, directed towards the elimination of error.
The Myth of the Framework: In Defence of Science and Rationality (1993), 140.
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Although [Charles Darwin] would patiently go on repeating experiments where there was any good to be gained, he could not endure having to repeat an experiment which ought, if complete care had been taken, to have told its story at first—and this gave him a continual anxiety that the experiment should not be wasted; he felt the experiment to be sacred, however slight a one it was. He wished to learn as much as possible from an experiment, so that he did not confine himself to observing the single point to which the experiment was directed, and his power of seeing a number of other things was wonderful. ... Any experiment done was to be of some use, and ... strongly he urged the necessity of keeping the notes of experiments which failed, and to this rule he always adhered.
In Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of his Published Letters (1908), 92.
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Among those whom I could never pursuade to rank themselves with idlers, and who speak with indignation of my morning sleeps and nocturnal rambles, one passes the day in catching spiders, that he may count their eyes with a microscope; another exhibits the dust of a marigold separated from the flower with a dexterity worthy of Leuwenhoweck himself. Some turn the wheel of electricity; some suspend rings to a lodestone, and find that what they did yesterday, they can do again to-day.—Some register the changes of the wind, and die fully convinced that the wind is changeable.—There are men yet more profound, who have heard that two colorless liquors may produce a color by union, and that two cold bodies will grow hot of they are mingled: they mingle them, and produce the effect expected, say it is strange, and mingle them again.
In Tryon Edwards, A Dictionary of Thoughts (1908), 243.
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Ampère was a mathematician of various resources & I think might rather be called excentric [sic] than original. He was as it were always mounted upon a hobby horse of a monstrous character pushing the most remote & distant analogies. This hobby horse was sometimes like that of a child ['s] made of heavy wood, at other times it resembled those [?] shapes [?] used in the theatre [?] & at other times it was like a hypogrif in a pantomime de imagie. He had a sort of faith in animal magnetism & has published some refined & ingenious memoirs to prove the identity of electricity & magnetism but even in these views he is rather as I said before excentric than original. He has always appeared to me to possess a very discursive imagination & but little accuracy of observation or acuteness of research.
'Davy’s Sketches of his Contemporaries', Chymia, 1967, 12, 135-6.
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An engineer, a physicist and a mathematician find themselves in an anecdote, indeed an anecdote quite similar to many that you have no doubt already heard.
After some observations and rough calculations the engineer realizes the situation and starts laughing.
A few minutes later the physicist understands too and chuckles to himself happily, as he now has enough experimental evidence to publish a paper.
This leaves the mathematician somewhat perplexed, as he had observed right away that he was the subject of an anecdote, and deduced quite rapidly the presence of humor from similar anecdotes, but considers this anecdote to be too trivial a corollary to be significant, let alone funny.
Anonymous
In 'Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science' APS News (Jun 2003), 12 No. 6.
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An experiment differs from an observation in this, that knowledge gained through observation seems to appear of itself, while that which an experiment brings us is the fruit of an effort that we make, with the object of knowing whether something exists or does not exist.
Traité sur l'expérience en médecine (1774), Vol. 1, 45. In Claude Bernard, Henry C. Greene, L. J. Henderson, An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1957), 6.
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An experiment is an observation that can be repeated, isolated and varied. The more frequently you can repeat an observation, the more likely are you to see clearly what is there and to describe accurately what you have seen. The more strictly you can isolate an observation, the easier does your task of observation become, and the less danger is there of your being led astray by irrelevant circumstances, or of placing emphasis on the wrong point. The more widely you can vary an observation, the more clearly will the uniformity of experience stand out, and the better is your chance of discovering laws.
In A Text-Book of Psychology (1909), 20.
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An unelectrified atom is so elusive that unless more than a million million are present we have no means sufficiently sensitive to detect them, or, to put it another way, unless we had a better test for a man than for an unelectrified molecule, we should be unable to find out that the earth was inhabited. … A billion unelectrified atoms may escape our observation, whereas a dozen or so electrified ones are detected without difficulty.
From the Romanes Lecture (10 Jun 1914) delivered in the Sheldonian Theatre, published as The Atomic Theory (1914), 9.
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Analogy is a wonderful, useful and most important form of thinking, and biology is saturated with it. Nothing is worse than a horrible mass of undigested facts, and facts are indigestible unless there is some rhyme or reason to them. The physicist, with his facts, seeks reason; the biologist seeks something very much like rhyme, and rhyme is a kind of analogy.... This analogizing, this fine sweeping ability to see likenesses in the midst of differences is the great glory of biology, but biologists don't know it.... They have always been so fascinated and overawed by the superior prestige of exact physical science that they feel they have to imitate it.... In its central content, biology is not accurate thinking, but accurate observation and imaginative thinking, with great sweeping generalizations.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 98-100.
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And from this such small difference of eight minutes [of arc] it is clear why Ptolemy, since he was working with bisection [of the linear eccentricity], accepted a fixed equant point… . For Ptolemy set out that he actually did not get below ten minutes [of arc], that is a sixth of a degree, in making observations. To us, on whom Divine benevolence has bestowed the most diligent of observers, Tycho Brahe, from whose observations this eight-minute error of Ptolemy’s in regard to Mars is deduced, it is fitting that we accept with grateful minds this gift from God, and both acknowledge and build upon it. So let us work upon it so as to at last track down the real form of celestial motions (these arguments giving support to our belief that the assumptions are incorrect). This is the path I shall, in my own way, strike out in what follows. For if I thought the eight minutes in [ecliptic] longitude were unimportant, I could make a sufficient correction (by bisecting the [linear] eccentricity) to the hypothesis found in Chapter 16. Now, because they could not be disregarded, these eight minutes alone will lead us along a path to the reform of the whole of Astronomy, and they are the matter for a great part of this work.
Astronomia Nova, New Astronomy (1609), ch. 19, 113-4, Johannes Kepler Gesammelte Werke (1937-), Vol. 3, 177-8.
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And if you want the exact moment in time, it was conceived mentally on 8th March in this year one thousand six hundred and eighteen, but submitted to calculation in an unlucky way, and therefore rejected as false, and finally returning on the 15th of May and adopting a new line of attack, stormed the darkness of my mind. So strong was the support from the combination of my labour of seventeen years on the observations of Brahe and the present study, which conspired together, that at first I believed I was dreaming, and assuming my conclusion among my basic premises. But it is absolutely certain and exact that the proportion between the periodic times of any two planets is precisely the sesquialterate proportion of their mean distances.
Harmonice Mundi, The Harmony of the World (1619), book V, ch. 3. Trans. E. J. Aiton, A. M. Duncan and J. V. Field (1997), 411.
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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.
In Interesting Anecdotes, Memoirs, Allegories, Essays, and Poetical Fragments (1793), Vols 3-4, Vol 4, 73.
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Any one, if he will only observe, can find some little thing he does not understand as a starter for an investigation.
From Address (22 May 1914) to the graduating class of the Friends’ School, Washington, D.C. Printed in 'Discovery and Invention', The National Geographic Magazine (1914), 25, 650.
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Any opinion as to the form in which the energy of gravitation exists in space is of great importance, and whoever can make his opinion probable will have, made an enormous stride in physical speculation. The apparent universality of gravitation, and the equality of its effects on matter of all kinds are most remarkable facts, hitherto without exception; but they are purely experimental facts, liable to be corrected by a single observed exception. We cannot conceive of matter with negative inertia or mass; but we see no way of accounting for the proportionality of gravitation to mass by any legitimate method of demonstration. If we can see the tails of comets fly off in the direction opposed to the sun with an accelerated velocity, and if we believe these tails to be matter and not optical illusions or mere tracks of vibrating disturbance, then we must admit a force in that direction, and we may establish that it is caused by the sun if it always depends upon his position and distance.
Letter to William Huggins (13 Oct 1868). In P. M. Hannan (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1995), Vol. 2, 1862-1873, 451-2.
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Apart from its healthful mental training as a branch of ordinary education, geology as an open-air pursuit affords an admirable training in habits of observation, furnishes a delightful relief from the cares and routine of everyday life, takes us into the open fields and the free fresh face of nature, leads us into all manner of sequestered nooks, whither hardly any other occupation or interest would be likely to send us, sets before us problems of the highest interest regarding the history of the ground beneath our feet, and thus gives a new charm to scenery which may be already replete with attractions.
Outlines of Field-Geology (1900), 251-2.
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As Crystallography was born of a chance observation by Haüy of the cleavage-planes of a single fortunately fragile specimen, … so out of the slender study of the Norwich Spiral has sprung the vast and interminable Calculus of Cyclodes, which strikes such far-spreading and tenacious roots into the profoundest strata of denumeration, and, by this and the multitudinous and multifarious dependent theories which cluster around it, reminds one of the Scriptural comparison of the Kingdom of Heaven “to a grain of mustard-seed which a man took and cast into his garden, and it grew and waxed a great tree, and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it.”
From 'Outline Trace of the Theory of Reducible Cyclodes', Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society (1869), 2, 155, collected in Collected Mathematical Papers of James Joseph Sylvester (1908), Vol. 2, 683-684.
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As historians, we refuse to allow ourselves these vain speculations which turn on possibilities that, in order to be reduced to actuality, suppose an overturning of the Universe, in which our globe, like a speck of abandoned matter, escapes our vision and is no longer an object worthy of our regard. In order to fix our vision, it is necessary to take it such as it is, to observe well all parts of it, and by indications infer from the present to the past.
'Second Discours: Histoire et Theorie de la Terre', Histoire Naturelle, Ginerale et Particulière, Avec la Description du Cabinet du Roi (1749), Vol. 1, 98-9. Trans. Phillip R. Sloan.
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As I show you this liquid, I too could tell you, 'I took my drop of water from the immensity of creation, and I took it filled with that fecund jelly, that is, to use the language of science, full of the elements needed for the development of lower creatures. And then I waited, and I observed, and I asked questions of it, and I asked it to repeat the original act of creation for me; what a sight it would be! But it is silent! It has been silent for several years, ever since I began these experiments. Yes! And it is because I have kept away from it, and am keeping away from it to this moment, the only thing that it has not been given to man to produce, I have kept away from it the germs that are floating in the air, I have kept away from it life, for life is the germ, and the germ is life.'
Quoted in Patrice Debré, Louis Pasteur, trans. Elborg Forster (1994), 169.
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As in Mathematicks, so in Natural Philosophy, the Investigation of difficult Things by the Method of Analysis, ought ever to precede the Method of Composition. This Analysis consists in making Experiments and Observations, and in drawing general Conclusions from them by Induction, and admitting of no Objections against the Conclusions, but such as are taken from Experiments, or other certain Truths. For Hypotheses are not to be regarded in experimental Philosophy.
From Opticks, (1704, 2nd ed. 1718), Book 3, Query 31, 380.
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As in the experimental sciences, truth cannot be distinguished from error as long as firm principles have not been established through the rigorous observation of facts.
Ésur la maladie des vers ásoie (1870), 39.
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As soon … as it was observed that the stars retained their relative places, that the times of their rising and setting varied with the seasons, that sun, moon, and planets moved among them in a plane, … then a new order of things began.… Science had begun, and the first triumph of it was the power of foretelling the future; eclipses were perceived to recur in cycles of nineteen years, and philosophers were able to say when an eclipse was to be looked for. The periods of the planets were determined. Theories were invented to account for their eccentricities; and, false as those theories might be, the position of the planets could be calculated with moderate certainty by them.
Lecture delivered to the Royal Institution (5 Feb 1864), 'On the Science of History'. Collected in Notices of the Proceedings at the Meetings of the Members of the Royal Institution of Great Britain with Abstracts of the Discourses (1866), Vol. 4, 187.
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As the prerogative of Natural Science is to cultivate a taste for observation, so that of Mathematics is, almost from the starting point, to stimulate the faculty of invention.
In 'A Plea for the Mathematician', Nature, 1, 261 in Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2 (1908), 717.
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As there is not in human observation proper means for measuring the waste of land upon the globe, it is hence inferred, that we cannot estimate the duration of what we see at present, nor calculate the period at which it had begun; so that, with respect to human observation, this world has neither a beginning nor an end.
Abstract of a Dissertation... Concerning the System of the Earth, its Duration, and Stability (1785), 28.
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Astronomers and physicists, dealing habitually with objects and quantities far beyond the reach of the senses, even with the aid of the most powerful aids that ingenuity has been able to devise, tend almost inevitably to fall into the ways of thinking of men dealing with objects and quantities that do not exist at all, e.g., theologians and metaphysicians. Thus their speculations tend almost inevitably to depart from the field of true science, which is that of precise observation, and to become mere soaring in the empyrean. The process works backward, too. That is to say, their reports of what they pretend actually to see are often very unreliable. It is thus no wonder that, of all men of science, they are the most given to flirting with theology. Nor is it remarkable that, in the popular belief, most astronomers end by losing their minds.
Minority Report: H. L. Mencken’s Notebooks (1956), Sample 74, 60.
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Astronomy may be revolutionized more than any other field of science by observations from above the atmosphere. Study of the planets, the Sun, the stars, and the rarified matter in space should all be profoundly influenced by measurements from balloons, rockets, probes and satellites. ... In a new adventure of discovery no one can foretell what will be found, and it is probably safe to predict that the most important new discovery that will be made with flying telescopes will be quite unexpected and unforeseen. (1961)
Opening and closing of 'Flying Telescopes', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (May 1961), Vol. 17, No. 5, 191 and 194.
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At length being at Clapham where there is, on the common, a large pond which, I observed to be one day very rough with the wind, I fetched out a cruet of oil and dropt a little of it on the water. I saw it spread itself with surprising swiftness upon the surface; but the effect of smoothing the waves was not produced; for I had applied it first on the leeward side of the pond, where the waves were largest, and the wind drove my oil back upon the shore. I then went to the windward side, where they began to form; and there the oil, though not more than a tea-spoonful, produced an instant calm over a space several yards square, which spread amazingly, and extended itself gradually till it reached the leeside, making all that quarter of the pond, perhaps half an acre, as smooth as a looking-glass.
[Experiment to test an observation made at sea in 1757, when he had seen the wake of a ship smoothed, explained by the captain as presumably due to cooks emptying greasy water in to the sea through the scuppers.]
Letter, extract in 'Of the still of Waves by Means of Oil The Gentleman's Magazine (1775), Vol. 45, 82.
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At the beginning of its existence as a science, biology was forced to take cognizance of the seemingly boundless variety of living things, for no exact study of life phenomena was possible until the apparent chaos of the distinct kinds of organisms had been reduced to a rational system. Systematics and morphology, two predominantly descriptive and observational disciplines, took precedence among biological sciences during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. More recently physiology has come to the foreground, accompanied by the introduction of quantitative methods and by a shift from the observationalism of the past to a predominance of experimentation.
In Genetics and the Origin of Species (1937, 1982), 6.
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At the entrance to the observatory Stjerneborg located underground, Tycho Brahe built a Ionic portal. On top of this were three sculptured lions. On both sides were inscriptions and on the backside was a longer inscription in gold letters on a porfyr stone: Consecrated to the all-good, great God and Posterity. Tycho Brahe, Son of Otto, who realized that Astronomy, the oldest and most distinguished of all sciences, had indeed been studied for a long time and to a great extent, but still had not obtained sufficient firmness or had been purified of errors, in order to reform it and raise it to perfection, invented and with incredible labour, industry, and expenditure constructed various exact instruments suitable for all kinds of observations of the celestial bodies, and placed them partly in the neighbouring castle of Uraniborg, which was built for the same purpose, partly in these subterranean rooms for a more constant and useful application, and recommending, hallowing, and consecrating this very rare and costly treasure to you, you glorious Posterity, who will live for ever and ever, he, who has both begun and finished everything on this island, after erecting this monument, beseeches and adjures you that in honour of the eternal God, creator of the wonderful clockwork of the heavens, and for the propagation of the divine science and for the celebrity of the fatherland, you will constantly preserve it and not let it decay with old age or any other injury or be removed to any other place or in any way be molested, if for no other reason, at any rate out of reverence to the creator’s eye, which watches over the universe. Greetings to you who read this and act accordingly. Farewell!
(Translated from the original in Latin)
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At this stage you must admit that whatever is seen to be sentient is nevertheless composed of atoms that are insentient. The phenomena open to our observation so not contradict this conclusion or conflict with it. Rather they lead us by the hand and compel us to believe that the animate is born, as I maintain, of the insentient.
In On the Nature of the Universe, translated by R. E. Latham (1951, 1994), 59.
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Birds ... are sensitive indicators of the environment, a sort of “ecological litmus paper,” ... The observation and recording of bird populations over time lead inevitably to environmental awareness and can signal impending changes.
In Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America (2008), 10.
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But by far the greatest hindrance and aberration of the human understanding proceeds from the dullness, incompetency, and deceptions of the senses; in that things which strike the sense outweigh things which do not immediately strike it, though they be more important. Hence it is that speculation commonly ceases where sight ceases; insomuch that of things invisible there is little or no observation.
From Aphorism 50, Novum Organum, Book I (1620). Collected in James Spedding (ed.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1858), Vol. 4, 58.
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By destroying the biological character of phenomena, the use of averages in physiology and medicine usually gives only apparent accuracy to the results. From our point of view, we may distinguish between several kinds of averages: physical averages, chemical averages and physiological and pathological averages. If, for instance, we observe the number of pulsations and the degree of blood pressure by means of the oscillations of a manometer throughout one day, and if we take the average of all our figures to get the true or average blood pressure and to learn the true or average number of pulsations, we shall simply have wrong numbers. In fact, the pulse decreases in number and intensity when we are fasting and increases during digestion or under different influences of movement and rest; all the biological characteristics of the phenomenon disappear in the average. Chemical averages are also often used. If we collect a man's urine during twenty-four hours and mix all this urine to analyze the average, we get an analysis of a urine which simply does not exist; for urine, when fasting, is different from urine during digestion. A startling instance of this kind was invented by a physiologist who took urine from a railroad station urinal where people of all nations passed, and who believed he could thus present an analysis of average European urine! Aside from physical and chemical, there are physiological averages, or what we might call average descriptions of phenomena, which are even more false. Let me assume that a physician collects a great many individual observations of a disease and that he makes an average description of symptoms observed in the individual cases; he will thus have a description that will never be matched in nature. So in physiology, we must never make average descriptions of experiments, because the true relations of phenomena disappear in the average; when dealing with complex and variable experiments, we must study their various circumstances, and then present our most perfect experiment as a type, which, however, still stands for true facts. In the cases just considered, averages must therefore be rejected, because they confuse, while aiming to unify, and distort while aiming to simplify. Averages are applicable only to reducing very slightly varying numerical data about clearly defined and absolutely simple cases.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 134-135.
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By keenly confronting the enigmas that surround us, and by considering and analyzing the observations that I had made I ended up in the domain of mathematics.
In M.C. Escher: The Graphic Work (1978), 8.
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By no amount of reasoning can we altogether eliminate all contingency from our world. Moreover, pure speculation alone will not enable us to get a determinate picture of the existing world. We must eliminate some of the conflicting possibilities, and this can be brought about only by experiment and observation.
Reason and Nature: an Essay on the Meaning of Scientific Method? (2nd Ed., 1964), 82.
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By teaching us how to cultivate each ferment in its purity—in other words, by teaching us how to rear the individual organism apart from all others,—Pasteur has enabled us to avoid all these errors. And where this isolation of a particular organism has been duly effected it grows and multiplies indefinitely, but no change of it into another organism is ever observed. In Pasteur’s researches the Bacterium remained a Bacterium, the Vibrio a Vibrio, the Penicillium a Penicillium, and the Torula a Torula. Sow any of these in a state of purity in an appropriate liquid; you get it, and it alone, in the subsequent crop. In like manner, sow smallpox in the human body, your crop is smallpox. Sow there scarlatina, and your crop is scarlatina. Sow typhoid virus, your crop is typhoid—cholera, your crop is cholera. The disease bears as constant a relation to its contagium as the microscopic organisms just enumerated do to their germs, or indeed as a thistle does to its seed.
In 'Fermentation, and its Bearings on Surgery and Medicine', Essays on the Floating­Matter of the Air in Relation to Putrefaction and Infection (1881), 264.
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By the act of observation we have selected a ‘real’ history out of the many realities, and once someone has seen a tree in our world it stays there even when nobody is looking at it.
…...
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Chemistry is like a majestic skyscraper. The concrete secure foundation of chemistry consists of countless experimentally observed facts. The theories, principles and laws developed from these observations are like an elevator which runs from the bottom to the top of the edifice.
Ernest R. Toon and George L. Ellis (eds.), Foundations of Chemistry (1968), 1.
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Chemistry is one of those branches of human knowledge which has built itself upon methods and instruments by which truth can presumably be determined. It has survived and grown because all its precepts and principles can be re-tested at any time and anywhere. So long as it remained the mysterious alchemy by which a few devotees, by devious and dubious means, presumed to change baser metals into gold, it did not flourish, but when it dealt with the fact that 56 g. of fine iron, when heated with 32 g. of flowers of sulfur, generated extra heat and gave exactly 88 g. of an entirely new substance, then additional steps could be taken by anyone. Scientific research in chemistry, since the birth of the balance and the thermometer, has been a steady growth of test and observation. It has disclosed a finite number of elementary reagents composing an infinite universe, and it is devoted to their inter-reaction for the benefit of mankind.
Address upon receiving the Perkin Medal Award, 'The Big Things in Chemistry', The Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry (Feb 1921), 13, No. 2, 163.
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Chemists have made of phlogiston a vague principle which is not at all rigorously defined, and which, in consequence, adapts itself to all explanations in which it is wished it shall enter; sometimes it is free fire, sometimes it is fire combined with the earthy element; sometimes it passes through the pores of vessels, sometimes they are impenetrable to it; it explains both the causticity and non-causticity, transparency and opacity, colours and absence of colours. It is a veritable Proteus which changes its form every instant. It is time to conduct chemistry to a more rigorous mode of reasoning ... to distinguish fact and observation from what is systematic and hypothetical.
'Réflexions sur le phlogistique', Mémoires de l'Académie des Sciences, 1783, 505-38. Reprinted in Oeuvres de Lavoisier (1864), Vol. 2, 640, trans. M. P. Crosland.
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Common sense is science exactly in so far as it fulfills the ideal of common sense; that is, sees facts as they are, or at any rate, without the distortion of prejudice, and reasons from them in accordance with the dictates of sound judgment. And science is simply common sense at its best, that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.
The Crayfish: an Introduction to the Study of Zoölogy (1880), 2. Excerpted in Popular Science (Apr 1880), 16, 789.
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Computers and rocket ships are examples of invention, not of understanding. … All that is needed to build machines is the knowledge that when one thing happens, another thing happens as a result. It’s an accumulation of simple patterns. A dog can learn patterns. There is no “why” in those examples. We don’t understand why electricity travels. We don’t know why light travels at a constant speed forever. All we can do is observe and record patterns.
In God's Debris: A Thought Experiment (2004), 22.
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Copernicus, the most learned man whom we are able to name other than Atlas and Ptolemy, even though he taught in a most learned manner the demonstrations and causes of motion based on observation, nevertheless fled from the job of constructing tables, so that if anyone computes from his tables, the computation is not even in agreement with his observations on which the foundation of the work rests. Therefore first I have compared the observations of Copernicus with those of Ptolemy and others as to which are the most accurate, but besides the bare observations, I have taken from Copernicus nothing other than traces of demonstrations. As for the tables of mean motion, and of prosthaphaereses and all the rest, I have constructed these anew, following absolutely no other reasoning than that which I have judged to be of maximum harmony.
Dedication to the Duke of Prussia, Prutenicae Tabulae (1551), 1585 edition, as quoted in Owen Gingerich, The Eye of Heaven: Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler (1993), 227.
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Cosmology is a science which has only a few observable facts to work with. The discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation added one—the present radiation temperature of the universe. This, however, was a significant increase in our knowledge since it requires a cosmology with a source for the radiation at an early epoch and is a new probe of that epoch. More sensitive measurements of the background radiation in the future will allow us to discover additional facts about the universe.
'Discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background', in B. Bertotti (ed.) Modern Cosmology in Retrospect (1990), 304.
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Cosmology, for centuries consisting of speculation based on a minimum of observational evidence and a maximum of philosophical predilection, became in the twentieth century an observational science, its theories now subject to verification or refutation to a degree previously unimaginable.
Opening sentence in 'Philosophical Values and Observation in Edwin Hubble's Choice of a Model of the Universe', Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences (1982), 13, No. 1, 41.
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Dalton transformed the atomic concept from a philosophical speculation into a scientific theory—framed to explain quantitative observations, suggesting new tests and experiments, and capable of being given quantitative form through the establishment of relative masses of atomic particles.
Development of Concepts of Physics. In Clifford A. Pickover, Archimedes to Hawking: Laws of Science and the Great Minds Behind Them (2008), 175.
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Direct observation of the testimony of the earth … is a matter of the laboratory, of the field naturalist, of indefatigable digging among the ancient archives of the earth’s history. If Mr. Bryan, with an open heart and mind, would drop all his books and all the disputations among the doctors and study first hand the simple archives of Nature, all his doubts would disappear; he would not lose his religion; he would become an evolutionist.
'Evolution and Religion', New York Times (5 Mar 1922), 91. Written in response to an article a few days earlier in which William Jennings Bryan challenged the theory of evolution as lacking proof.
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Dissent is the mark of freedom, as originality is the mark of independence of mind. … No one can be a scientist … if he does not have independence of observation and of thought.
Lecture, 'The Sense of Human Dignity', at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (19 Mar 1953), printed in Science and Human Values (1959), 79.
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Do not expect to be hailed as a hero when you make your great discovery. More likely you will be a ratbag—maybe failed by your examiners. Your statistics, or your observations, or your literature study, or your something else will be patently deficient. Do not doubt that in our enlightened age the really important advances are and will be rejected more often than acclaimed. Nor should we doubt that in our own professional lifetime we too will repudiate with like pontifical finality the most significant insight ever to reach our desk.
Theories of the Earth and Universe (1988), 365.
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During the last two centuries and a half, physical knowledge has been gradually made to rest upon a basis which it had not before. It has become mathematical. The question now is, not whether this or that hypothesis is better or worse to the pure thought, but whether it accords with observed phenomena in those consequences which can be shown necessarily to follow from it, if it be true
In Augustus De Morgan and Sophia Elizabeth De Morgan (ed.), A Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 2.
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Electric and magnetic forces. May they live for ever, and never be forgot, if only to remind us that the science of electromagnetics, in spite of the abstract nature of its theory, involving quantities whose nature is entirely unknown at the present, is really and truly founded on the observations of real Newtonian forces, electric and magnetic respectively.
From 'Electromagnetic Theory, CXII', The Electrician (23 Feb 1900), Vol. 44, 615.
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Eratosthenes declares that it is no longer necessary to inquire as to the cause of the overflow of the Nile, since we know definitely that men have come to the sources of the Nile and have observed the rains there.
Proclus on Plato Timaeus, Vol. 1, 121.8-11 (Diehl). Quoted in Morris R. Cohen and I. E. Drabkin, A Sourcebook in Greek Science (1948), 383.
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Error, never can be consistent, nor can truth fail of having support from the accurate examination of every circumstance.
'Theory of the Earth', Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1788), 1, 259.
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Even one well-made observation will be enough in many cases, just as one well-constructed experiment often suffices for the establishment of a law.
The Rules of Sociological Method (1895), 8th edition, trans. Sarah A. Solovay and John M. Mueller, ed. George E. G. Catlin (1938,1964 edition), 80.
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Every 12 years Jupiter returns to the same position in the sky; every 370 days it disappears in the fire of the Sun in the evening to the west, 30 days later it reappears in the morning to the east...[Observation in 4th century B.C.]
Gan De
In the lost book Suixing Jing (Treatise on Jupiter), quoted in the extensive compilation Kaiyuan Zhanjing, (The Kaiyuan Treatise on Astrology (compiled 718-726). Quotation as given in Norman K. Glendenning, Our Place in the Universe (2007), 126. Source cited in Helaine Selin, Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures (1997), 342.
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Every occurrence in Nature is preceded by other occurrences which are its causes, and succeeded by others which are its effects. The human mind is not satisfied with observing and studying any natural occurrence alone, but takes pleasure in connecting every natural fact with what has gone before it, and with what is to come after it.
In Forms of Water in Clouds and Rivers, Ice and Glaciers (1872), 1.
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Every science begins by accumulating observations, and presently generalizes these empirically; but only when it reaches the stage at which its empirical generalizations are included in a rational generalization does it become developed science.
In The Data of Ethics (1879), 61.
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Everybody firmly believes in it [Nomal Law of Errors] because the mathematicians imagine it is a fact of observation, and observers that it is a theory of mathematics.
…...
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Examining this water...I found floating therein divers earthy particles, and some green streaks, spirally wound serpent-wise...and I judge that some of these little creatures were above a thousand times smaller than the smallest ones I have ever yet seen, upon the rind of cheese, in wheaten flour, mould, and the like.
[The first recorded observation of protozoa.]
Letter to the Royal Society, London (7 Sep 1674). In John Carey, Eyewitness to Science (1997), 28.
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Exercises in being obedient can not begin too early, and I have, during an almost daily observation of six years, discovered no harm from an early, consistent guiding of the germinating will, provided only this guiding be done with the greatest mildness and justice, as if the infant had already an insight into the benefits of obedience.
In W. Preyer and H.W. Brown (trans.), The Mind of the Child: The Senses and the Will: Observations Concerning the Mental Development of the Human Being in the First Years of Life (1888, 1890), Vol. 1, 345.
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Exercising the right of occasional suppression and slight modification, it is truly absurd to see how plastic a limited number of observations become, in the hands of men with preconceived ideas.
Meteorographica (1863), 5.
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Exper. I. I made a small hole in a window-shutter, and covered it with a piece of thick paper, which I perforated with a fine needle. For greater convenience of observation I placed a small looking-glass without the window-shutter, in such a position as to reflect the sun's light, in a direction nearly horizontal, upon the opposite wall, and to cause the cone of diverging light to pass over a table on which were several little screens of card-paper. I brought into the sunbeam a slip of card, about one-thirtieth of an inch in breadth, and observed its shadow, either on the wall or on other cards held at different distances. Besides the fringes of colour on each side of the shadow, the shadow itself was divided by similar parallel fringes, of smaller dimensions, differing in number, according to the distance at which the shadow was observed, but leaving the middle of the shadow always white. Now these fringes were the joint effects of the portions of light passing on each side of the slip of card and inflected, or rather diffracted, into the shadow. For, a little screen being placed a few inches from the card, so as to receive either edge of the shadow on its margin, all the fringes which had before been observed in the shadow on the wall, immediately disappeared, although the light inflected on the other side was allowed to retain its course, and although this light must have undergone any modification that the proximity of the other edge of the slip of card might have been capable of occasioning... Nor was it for want of a sufficient intensity of light that one of the two portions was incapable of producing the fringes alone; for when they were both uninterrupted, the lines appeared, even if the intensity was reduced to one-tenth or one-twentieth.
'Experiments and Calculations Relative to Physical Optics' (read in 1803), Philosophical Transactions (1804), 94, 2-3.
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Experiment is fundamentally only induced observation.
Section title in An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 19.
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Experimental observations are only experience carefully planned in advance, and designed to form a secure basis of new knowledge.
In The Design of Experiments (1935, 1970), 7.
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Experiments in geology are far more difficult than in physics and chemistry because of the greater size of the objects, commonly outside our laboratories, up to the earth itself, and also because of the fact that the geologic time scale exceeds the human time scale by a million and more times. This difference in time allows only direct observations of the actual geologic processes, the mind having to imagine what could possibly have happened in the past.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 455-6.
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Eyes and ears are bad witnesses for men who have barbarian souls.
Heraclitus, fr. 107. Trans. R. W. Sharples.
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Far from becoming discouraged, the philosopher should applaud nature, even when she appears miserly of herself or overly mysterious, and should feel pleased that as he lifts one part of her veil, she allows him to glimpse an immense number of other objects, all worthy of investigation. For what we already know should allow us to judge of what we will be able to know; the human mind has no frontiers, it extends proportionately as the universe displays itself; man, then, can and must attempt all, and he needs only time in order to know all. By multiplying his observations, he could even see and foresee all phenomena, all of nature's occurrences, with as much truth and certainty as if he were deducing them directly from causes. And what more excusable or even more noble enthusiasm could there be than that of believing man capable of recognizing all the powers, and discovering through his investigations all the secrets, of nature!
'Des Mulets', Oeuvres Philosophiques, ed. Jean Piveteau (1954), 414. Quoted in Jacques Roger, The Life Sciences in Eighteenth-Century French Thought, ed. Keith R. Benson and trans. Robert Ellrich (1997), 458.
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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.]
In Marc J. Madou, Fundamentals of Microfabrication: the Science of Miniaturization (2nd ed., 2002), 535
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For it may safely be said, not that the habit of ready and correct observation will by itself make us useful nurses, but that without it we shall be useless with all our devotion.
Notes on Nursing: What it is and what it is not (1860), 160.
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For the time of making Observations none can ever be amiss; there being no season, nor indeed hardly any place where in some Natural Thing or other does not present it self worthy of Remark: yea there are some things that require Observation all the Year round, as Springs, Rivers, &c. Nor is there any Season amiss for the gathering Natural Things. Bodies of one kind or other presenting themselves at all times, and in Winter as well as Summer.
In Brief Instructions for Making Observations in all Parts of the World (1696), 10-11.
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For the holy Bible and the phenomena of nature proceed alike from the divine Word, the former as the dictate of the Holy Ghost and the latter as the observant executrix of God's commands. It is necessary for the Bible, in order to be accommodated to the understanding of every man, to speak many things which appear to differ from the absolute truth so far as the bare meaning of the words is concerned. But Nature, on the other hand, is inexorable and immutable; she never transgresses the laws imposed upon her, or cares a whit whether her abstruse reasons and methods of operation are understandable to men. For that reason it appears that nothing physical which sense-experience sets before our eyes, or which necessary demonstrations prove to us, ought to be called in question (much less condemned) upon the testimony of biblical passages which may have some different meaning beneath their words.
Letter to Madame Christina of Lorraine, Grand Duchess of Tuscany: Concerning the Use of Biblical Quotations in Matters of Science (1615), trans. Stillman Drake, Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo (1957), 182-3.
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For the little that one has reflected on the origin of our knowledge, it is easy to perceive that we can acquire it only by means of comparison. That which is absolutely incomparable is wholly incomprehensible. God is the only example that we could give here. He cannot be comprehended, because he cannot be compared. But all which is susceptible of comparison, everything that we can perceive by different aspects, all that we can consider relatively, can always be judged according to our knowledge.
'Histoire naturelle de l'Homme', Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière, Avec la Description du Cabinet du Roi (1749), Vol. 2, 431. Trans. Phillip R. Sloan.
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For the Members of the Assembly having before their eyes so many fatal Instances of the errors and falshoods, in which the greatest part of mankind has so long wandred, because they rely'd upon the strength of humane Reason alone, have begun anew to correct all Hypotheses by sense, as Seamen do their dead Reckonings by Cœlestial Observations; and to this purpose it has been their principal indeavour to enlarge and strengthen the Senses by Medicine, and by such outward Instruments as are proper for their particular works.
Micrographia, or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Inquiries thereupon (1665), preface sig.
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For the truth of the conclusions of physical science, observation is the supreme Court of Appeal. It does not follow that every item which we confidently accept as physical knowledge has actually been certified by the Court; our confidence is that it would be certified by the Court if it were submitted. But it does follow that every item of physical knowledge is of a form which might be submitted to the Court. It must be such that we can specify (although it may be impracticable to carry out) an observational procedure which would decide whether it is true or not. Clearly a statement cannot be tested by observation unless it is an assertion about the results of observation. Every item of physical knowledge must therefore be an assertion of what has been or would be the result of carrying out a specified observational procedure.
In ’Scientific Epistemology', The Philosophy of Physical Science (1938, 2012), 9.
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For there are two modes of acquiring knowledge, namely, by reasoning and experience. Reasoning draws a conclusion and makes us grant the conclusion, but does not make the conclusion certain, nor does it remove doubt so that the mind may rest on the intuition of truth, unless the mind discovers it by the path of experience; since many have the arguments relating to what can be known, but because they lack experience they neglect the arguments, and neither avoid what is harmful nor follow what is good. For if a man who has never seen fire should prove by adequate reasoning that fire burns and injures things and destroys them, his mind would not be satisfied thereby, nor would he avoid fire, until he placed his hand or some combustible substance in the fire, so that he might prove by experience that which reasoning taught. But when he has had actual experience of combustion his mind is made certain and rests in the full light of truth. Therefore reasoning does not suffice, but experience does.
Opus Majus [1266-1268], Part VI, chapter I, trans. R. B. Burke, The Opus Majus of Roger Bacon (1928), Vol. 2, 583.
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For those [observations] that I made in Leipzig in my youth and up to my 21st year, I usually call childish and of doubtful value. Those that I took later until my 28th year [i.e., until 1574] I call juvenile and fairly serviceable. The third group, however, which I made at Uraniborg during approximately the last 21 years with the greatest care and with very accurate instruments at a more mature age, until I was fifty years of age, those I call the observations of my manhood, completely valid and absolutely certain, and this is my opinion of them.
In H. Raeder, E. and B. Stromgren (eds. and trans.), Tycho Brahe’s Description of his Instruments and Scientific Work: as given in Astronomiae Instauratae Mechanica, Wandesburgi 1598 (1946), 110.
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From my close observation of writers ... they fall in to two groups: 1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and 2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review.
In Gold: The Final Science Fiction Collection? (2003).
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From my numerous observations, I conclude that these tubercle bacilli occur in all tuberculous disorders, and that they are distinguishable from all other microorganisms.
'The Etiology of Tuberculosis' (1882), Essays of Robert Koch (1987), trans. K. Codell Carter, 87.
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From the intensity of the spots near the centre, we can infer that the protein molecules are relatively dense globular bodies, perhaps joined together by valency bridges, but in any event separated by relatively large spaces which contain water. From the intensity of the more distant spots, it can be inferred that the arrangement of atoms inside the protein molecule is also of a perfectly definite kind, although without the periodicities characterising the fibrous proteins. The observations are compatible with oblate spheroidal molecules of diameters about 25 A. and 35 A., arranged in hexagonal screw-axis. ... At this stage, such ideas are merely speculative, but now that a crystalline protein has been made to give X-ray photographs, it is clear that we have the means of checking them and, by examining the structure of all crystalline proteins, arriving at a far more detailed conclusion about protein structure than previous physical or chemical methods have been able to give.
'X-Ray Photographs of Crystalline Pepsin', Nature (1934), 133, 795.
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From the standpoint of observation, then, we must regard it as a highly probable hypothesis that the beginnings of the mental life date from as far back as the beginnings of life at large.
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From this fountain (the free will of God) it is those laws, which we call the laws of nature, have flowed, in which there appear many traces of the most wise contrivance, but not the least shadow of necessity. These therefore we must not seek from uncertain conjectures, but learn them from observations and experimental. He who is presumptuous enough to think that he can find the true principles of physics and the laws of natural things by the force alone of his own mind, and the internal light of his reason, must either suppose the world exists by necessity, and by the same necessity follows the law proposed; or if the order of Nature was established by the will of God, the [man] himself, a miserable reptile, can tell what was fittest to be done.
…...
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From whatever I have been able to observe up to this time the series of strata which form the visible crust of the earth appear to me classified in four general and successive orders. These four orders can be conceived to be four very large strata, as they really are, so that wherever they are exposed, they are disposed one above the other, always in the same order.
Quoted in Francesco Rodolico, 'Arduino', In Charles Coulston Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1970), Vol. 1, 234.
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Genius and science have burst the limits of space, and few observations, explained by just reasoning, have unveiled the mechanism of the universe. Would it not also be glorious for man to burst the limits of time, and, by a few observations, to ascertain the history of this world, and the series of events which preceded the birth of the human race?
'Preliminary discourse', to Recherches sur les Ossemens Fossiles (1812), trans. R. Kerr Essay on the Theory of the Earth (1813), 3-4.
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Geological facts being of an historical nature, all attempts to deduce a complete knowledge of them merely from their still, subsisting consequences, to the exclusion of unexceptionable testimony, must be deemed as absurd as that of deducing the history of ancient Rome solely from the medals or other monuments of antiquity it still exhibits, or the scattered ruins of its empire, to the exclusion of a Livy, a Sallust, or a Tacitus.
Geological Essays (1799), 5.
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Geology ... offers always some material for observation. ... [When] spring and summer come round, how easily may the hammer be buckled round the waist, and the student emerge from the dust of town into the joyous air of the country, for a few delightful hours among the rocks.
In The Story of a Boulder: or, Gleanings from the Note-book of a Field Geologist (1858), viii.
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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.”
In The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record (3rd ed., 1993), 70.
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Geology is part of that remarkable dynamic process of the human mind which is generally called science and to which man is driven by an inquisitive urge. By noticing relationships in the results of his observations, he attempts to order and to explain the infinite variety of phenomena that at first sight may appear to be chaotic. In the history of civilization this type of progressive scientist has been characterized by Prometheus stealing the heavenly fire, by Adam eating from the tree of knowledge, by the Faustian ache for wisdom.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 454.
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Go and see.
Given by author Thomas George Bonney as a maxim always guiding Lyell’s work. In Charles Lyell and Modern Geology (1895), 213. See another quote on this web page and compare Lyell’s own words: “We must preach up travelling … as the first, second, and third requisites for a modern geologist…”.
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Having always observed that most of them who constantly took in the weekly Bills of Mortality made little other use of them than to look at the foot how the burials increased or decreased, and among the Casualties what had happened, rare and extraordinary, in the week current; so as they might take the same as a Text to talk upon in the next company, and withal in the Plague-time, how the Sickness increased or decreased, that the Rich might judg of the necessity of their removal, and Trades-men might conjecture what doings they were likely to have in their respective dealings.
From Natural and Political Observations Mentioned in a Following Index and Made upon Bills of Mortality (1662), Preface. Reproduced in Cornelius Walford, The Insurance Cyclopaedia (1871), Vol. 1, 286. Italicizations from another source.
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Having discovered … by observation and comparison that certain objects agree in certain respects, we generalise the qualities in which they coincide,—that is, from a certain number of individual instances we infer a general law; we perform an act of Induction. This induction is erroneously viewed as analytic; it is purely a synthetic process.
In Lecture VI of his Biennial Course, by William Hamilton and Henry L. Mansel (ed.) and John Veitch (ed.), Metaphysics (1860), Vol. 1, 101.
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He had constructed for himself a certain system which thereafter exercised such an influence on his way of thinking that those who observed him always saw his judgment walking a few steps in front of his feeling, though he himself believed it was keeping to the rear.
Aphorism 82 in Notebook D (1773-1775), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 56-57.
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Heavy dependence on direct observation is essential to biology not only because of the complexity of biological phenomena, but because of the intervention of natural selection with its criterion of adequacy rather than perfection. In a system shaped by natural selection it is inevitable that logic will lose its way.
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 229.
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Hence, even in the domain of natural science the aid of the experimental method becomes indispensable whenever the problem set is the analysis of transient and impermanent phenomena, and not merely the observation of persistent and relatively constant objects.
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Her [Nettie Stevens] single-mindedness and devotion, combined with keen powers of observation; her thoughtfulness and patience, united to a well-balanced judgment, account, in part, for her remarkable accomplishment.
In obituary, 'The Scientific Work of Miss N.M. Steves', Science (11 Oct 1912), 36, No. 928, 470.
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Historical science is not worse, more restricted, or less capable of achieving firm conclusions because experiment, prediction, and subsumption under invariant laws of nature do not represent its usual working methods. The sciences of history use a different mode of explanation, rooted in the comparative and observational richness in our data. We cannot see a past event directly, but science is usually based on inference, not unvarnished observation (you don’t see electrons, gravity, or black holes either).
…...
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History, human or geological, represents our hypothesis, couched in terms of past events, devised to explain our present-day observations.
'Critique of the Principle of Uniformity', in C. C. Albritton (ed.), Uniformity and Simplicity (1967), 30.
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Hubble's observations suggested that there was a time, called the big bang, when the universe was infinitesimally small and infinitely dense. Under such conditions all the laws of science, and therefore all ability to predict the future, would break down. If there were events earlier than this time, then they could not affect what happens at the present time. Their existence can be ignored because it would have no observational consequences. One may say that time had a beginning at the big bang, in the sense that earlier times simply would not be defined. It should be emphasized that this beginning in time is very different from those that had been considered previously. In an unchanging universe a beginning in time is something that has to be imposed by some being outside the universe; there is no physical necessity for a beginning. One can imagine that God created the universe at literally any time in the past. On the other hand, if the universe is expanding, there may be physical reasons why there had to be a beginning. One could still imagine that God created the universe at the instant of the big bang, or even afterwards in just such a way as to make it look as though there had been a big bang, but it would be meaningless to suppose that it was created before the big bang. An expanding universe does not preclude a creator, but it does place limits on when he might have carried out his job!
A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (1988), 8-9.
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Hypothesis is the most important mental technique of the investigator, and its main function is to suggest new experiments or new observations. Indeed, most experiments and many observations are carried out with the deliberate object of testing an hypothesis. Another function is to help one see the significance of an object or event that otherwise would mean nothing. For instance, a mind prepared by the hypothesis of evolution would make many more significant observations on a field excursion than one not so prepared. Hypotheses should be used as tools to uncover new facts rather than as ends in themselves.
The Art of Scientific Investigation (1953), 46.
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I am a firm believer, that without speculation there is no good and original observation.
Letter to A. R. Wallace (22 Dec 1857). In Alfred Russel Wallace and Sir James Marchant (ed.), Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters and Reminiscences (1916), 109.
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I am convinced that this is the only means of advancing science, of clearing the mind from a confused heap of contradictory observations, that do but perplex and puzzle the Student, when he compares them, or misguide him if he gives himself up to their authority; but bringing them under one general head, can alone give rest and satisfaction to an inquisitive mind.
From 'A Discourse Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Distribution of Prizes' (11 Dec 1770), in Seven Discourses Delivered in the Royal Academy (1778), 98.
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I am convinced, by repeated observation, that marbles, lime-stones, chalks, marls, clays, sand, and almost all terrestrial substances, wherever situated, are full of shells and other spoils of the ocean.
'Second Discours: Histoire & Théorie de la Terre', Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière, Avec la Description du Cabinet du Roi (1749), Vol. I, 76-77; Natural History, General and Particular (1785), Vol. I, trans. W. Smellie, 13.
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I am glad of all details … whether they seem to you to be relevant or not.
In The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, collected in Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892), 294.
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I am not accustomed to saying anything with certainty after only one or two observations.
Epistola, Rationem, Modumque Propinandi Radicis Chynae Decocti (Letter on the China Root) in Charles Donald O'Malley (trans.), Andreas Vesalius of Brussels, 1514-1564 (1965), 201.
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I am not unmindful of the journalist’s quip that yesterday’s paper wraps today’s garbage. I am also not unmindful of the outrages visited upon our forests to publish redundant and incoherent collections of essays; for, like Dr. Seuss’ Lorax, I like to think that I speak for the trees. Beyond vanity, my only excuses for a collection of these essays lie in the observation that many people like (and as many people despise) them, and that they seem to cohere about a common theme–Darwin’s evolutionary perspective as an antidote to our cosmic arrogance.
…...
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I am particularly concerned to determine the probability of causes and results, as exhibited in events that occur in large numbers, and to investigate the laws according to which that probability approaches a limit in proportion to the repetition of events. That investigation deserves the attention of mathematicians because of the analysis required. It is primarily there that the approximation of formulas that are functions of large numbers has its most important applications. The investigation will benefit observers in identifying the mean to be chosen among the results of their observations and the probability of the errors still to be apprehended. Lastly, the investigation is one that deserves the attention of philosophers in showing how in the final analysis there is a regularity underlying the very things that seem to us to pertain entirely to chance, and in unveiling the hidden but constant causes on which that regularity depends. It is on the regularity of the main outcomes of events taken in large numbers that various institutions depend, such as annuities, tontines, and insurance policies. Questions about those subjects, as well as about inoculation with vaccine and decisions of electoral assemblies, present no further difficulty in the light of my theory. I limit myself here to resolving the most general of them, but the importance of these concerns in civil life, the moral considerations that complicate them, and the voluminous data that they presuppose require a separate work.
Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1825), trans. Andrew I. Dale (1995), Introduction.
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I am turned into a sort of machine for observing facts and grinding out conclusions.
As quoted in Adrian J. Desmond and James Richard Moore, Darwin (1994), 644. Described by the authors as a remark Darwin was heard to sigh, suspecting that his largest botany book, the 600-page Movement in Plants, was as dull as ditchwater.
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I am very sorry, Pyrophilus, that to the many (elsewhere enumerated) difficulties which you may meet with, and must therefore surmount, in the serious and effectual prosecution of experimental philosophy I must add one discouragement more, which will perhaps is much surprise as dishearten you; and it is, that besides that you will find (as we elsewhere mention) many of the experiments published by authors, or related to you by the persons you converse with, false and unsuccessful (besides this, I say), you will meet with several observations and experiments which, though communicated for true by candid authors or undistrusted eye-witnesses, or perhaps recommended by your own experience, may, upon further trial, disappoint your expectation, either not at all succeeding constantly, or at least varying much from what you expected.
Opening paragraph of The First Essay Concerning the Unsuccessfulness of Experiments (1673), collected in The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle in Six Volumes to Which is Prefixed the Life of the Author (1772), Vol. 1, 318-319.
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I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I’ll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be.
After stating he did definitely not believe in flying saucers, ancient astronauts, Bermuda Triangle or life after death, he explained what he would believe in. From editorial, 'Don’t You Believe?', Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine (18 Jan 1982), 6, No. 1, 6. Collected in The Roving Mind (1983), 43.
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I believe that mathematical reality lies outside us, that our function is to discover or observe it, and that the theorems which we prove, and which we describe grandiloquently as our “creations,” are simply the notes of our observations.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 113.
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I belong to those theoreticians who know by direct observation what it means to make a measurement. Methinks it were better if there were more of them.
Referring to his laboratory experience during his assistantship in experimental physics, as quoted in Walter Moore, Schrödinger: Life and Thought (1989, 1998), 58-59. Moore describes that Schrödinger in his early days in the laboratory, “learned to believe that physics is not based upon mathematical fantasies but on a solid ground of experimental observations.”
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I can certainly wish for new, large, and properly constructed instruments, and enough of them, but to state where and by what means they are to be procured, this I cannot do. Tycho Brahe has given Mastlin an instrument of metal as a present, which would be very useful if Mastlin could afford the cost of transporting it from the Baltic, and if he could hope that it would travel such a long way undamaged… . One can really ask for nothing better for the observation of the sun than an opening in a tower and a protected place underneath.
As quoted in James Bruce Ross and Mary Martin McLaughlin, The Portable Renaissance Reader (1968), 605.
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I can conceive few human states more enviable than that of the man to whom, panting in the foul laboratory, or watching for his life under the tropic forest, Isis shall for a moment lift her sacred veil, and show him, once and for ever, the thing he dreamed not of; some law, or even mere hint of a law, explaining one fact; but explaining with it a thousand more, connecting them all with each other and with the mighty whole, till order and meaning shoots through some old Chaos of scattered observations.
Health and Education (1874), 289.
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I cannot but be astonished that Sarsi should persist in trying to prove by means of witnesses something that I may see for myself at any time by means of experiment. Witnesses are examined in doutbful matters which are past and transient, not in those which are actual and present. A judge must seek by means of witnesses to determine whether Peter injured John last night, but not whether John was injured, since the judge can see that for himself.
'The Assayer' (1623), trans. Stillman Drake, Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo (1957), 271.
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I conclude therefore that this star [Tycho’s supernova] is not some kind of comet or a fiery meteor, whether these be generated beneath the Moon or above the Moon, but that it is a star shining in the firmament itself—one that has never previously been seen before our time, in any age since the beginning of the world.
In De Stella Nova, as translated in Dagobert D. Runes, A Treasury of World Science (1962), 108.
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I could not help laughing at the ease with which he explained his process of deduction. “When I hear you give your reasons,” I remarked, “the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled, until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.”
“Quite so,” he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an arm-chair. “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.”
“Frequently.”
“How often?”
“'Well, some hundreds of times.”
“Then how many are there?”
“How many! I don't know.”
“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed.”
From 'Adventure I.—A Scandal in Bohemia', Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, in The Strand Magazine: An Illustrated Monthly (Jul 1891), Vol. 2, 62.
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I do not … reject the use of statistics in medicine, but I condemn not trying to get beyond them and believing in statistics as the foundation of medical science. … Statistics … apply only to cases in which the cause of the facts observed is still [uncertain or] indeterminate. … There will always be some indeterminism … in all the sciences, and more in medicine than in any other. But man’s intellectual conquest consists in lessening and driving back indeterminism in proportion as he gains ground for determinism by the help of the experimental method..
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 138-140.
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I had … during many years, followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed by my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from memory than favorable ones.
In The Autobiography of Charles Darwin with original omissions restored, edited by Nora Barlow (1958).
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I have always loved to begin with the facts, to observe them, to walk in the light of experiment and demonstrate as much as possible, and to discuss the results.
Quoted in Francesco Rodolico, 'Arduino', In Charles Coulston Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1970), Vol. 1, 234.
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I have found that a measurable period of time elapses before the stimulus applied to the iliac plexus of the frog is transmitted to the insertion of the crural nerve into the gastrocnemius muscle by a brief electric current. In large frogs, in which the nerves were from 50-60 mm. in length, and which were preserved at a temperature of 2-6° C, although the temperature of the observation chanber was between 11° and 150° C, the elapsed time was 0.0014 to 0.0020 of a second.
'Vorläufiger Bericht über die Fortpflanzungsgeschwindigkeit der Nervenreizung' (1850). Trans. Edwin Clarke and C. D. O'Malley, The Human Brain and Spinal Cord (1968), 207.
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I have no doubt that certain learned men, now that the novelty of the hypotheses in this work has been widely reported—for it establishes that the Earth moves, and indeed that the Sun is motionless in the middle of the universe—are extremely shocked, and think that the scholarly disciplines, rightly established once and for all, should not be upset. But if they are willing to judge the matter thoroughly, they will find that the author of this work has committed nothing which deserves censure. For it is proper for an astronomer to establish a record of the motions of the heavens with diligent and skilful observations, and then to think out and construct laws for them, or rather hypotheses, whatever their nature may be, since the true laws cannot be reached by the use of reason; and from those assumptions the motions can be correctly calculated, both for the future and for the past. Our author has shown himself outstandingly skilful in both these respects. Nor is it necessary that these hypotheses should be true, nor indeed even probable, but it is sufficient if they merely produce calculations which agree with the observations. … For it is clear enough that this subject is completely and simply ignorant of the laws which produce apparently irregular motions. And if it does work out any laws—as certainly it does work out very many—it does not do so in any way with the aim of persuading anyone that they are valid, but only to provide a correct basis for calculation. Since different hypotheses are sometimes available to explain one and the same motion (for instance eccentricity or an epicycle for the motion of the Sun) an astronomer will prefer to seize on the one which is easiest to grasp; a philosopher will perhaps look more for probability; but neither will grasp or convey anything certain, unless it has been divinely revealed to him. Let us therefore allow these new hypotheses also to become known beside the older, which are no more probable, especially since they are remarkable and easy; and let them bring with them the vast treasury of highly learned observations. And let no one expect from astronomy, as far as hypotheses are concerned, anything certain, since it cannot produce any such thing, in case if he seizes on things constructed for another other purpose as true, he departs from this discipline more foolish than he came to it.
Although this preface would have been assumed by contemporary readers to be written by Copernicus, it was unsigned. It is now believed to have been written and added at press time by Andreas Osiander (who was then overseeing the printing of the book). It suggests the earth’s motion as described was merely a mathematical device, and not to be taken as absolute reality. Text as given in 'To the Reader on the Hypotheses in this Work', Copernicus: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (1543), translated by ‎Alistair Matheson Duncan (1976), 22-3. By adding this preface, Osiander wished to stave off criticism by theologians. See also the Andreas Osiander Quotes page of this website.
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I have procured some of the mice mentioned in my former letters, a young one and a female with young, both of which I have preserved in brandy. From the colour, shape, size, and manner of nesting, I make no doubt but that the species is nondescript [not known to science]. They are much smaller and more slender than the mus domesticus medius of Ray; and have more of the squirrel or dormouse colour ... They never enter into houses; are carried into ricks and barns with the sheaves; abound in harvest, and build their nests amidst the straws of the corn above the ground, and sometimes in thistles.
[Part of his observations on the harvest mouse, which he was the first to describe as a new species.]
Letter XII (4 Nov 1767) in The Natural History of Selborne (1789, 1899), 31.
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I have very often reflected on what it is that really distinguishes the great genius from the common crowd. Here are a few observations I have made. The common individual always conforms to the prevailing opinion and the prevailing fashion; he regards the State in which everything now exists as the only possible one and passively accepts it ail. It does not occur to him that everything, from the shape of the furniture up to the subtlest hypothesis, is decided by the great council of mankind of which he is a member. He wears thin-soled shoes even though the sharp stones of the Street hurt his feet, he allows fashion to dictate to him that the buckles of his shoes must extend as far as the toes even though that means the shoe is often hard to get on. He does not reflect that the form of the shoe depends as much upon him as it does upon the fool who first wore thin shoes on a cracked pavement. To the great genius it always occurs to ask: Could this too not be false! He never gives his vote without first reflecting.
Aphorism 24 in Notebook C (1772-1773), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 36.
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I keep looking for some … problem where someone has made an observation that doesn’t fit into my picture of the universe. If it doesn't fit in, then I find some way of fitting it in.
Interview with George B. Kauffman and Laurie M. Kauffman, in 'Linus Pauling: Reflections', American Scientist (Nov-Dec 1994), 82, No. 6, 522.
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I know well there are those who would have the Study of Nature restrained wholly to Observations; without ever proceeding further. But due Consideration, and a deeper Insight into Things, would soon have undeceived and made them sensible of their error. Assuredly, that man who should spend his whole life in amassing together stone, timber, and other materials for building, without ever at the making any use, or raising any fabrick out of them, might well be reputed very fantastic and extravagant. And a like censure would be his due, who should be perpetually heaping up of natural collections without design. building a structure of philosophy out of them, or advancing some propositions that might turn to the benefit and advantage of the world. This is in reality the true and only proper end of collections, of observations, and natural history: and they are of no manner of use or value without it.
In An Attempt Toward a Natural History of the Fossils of England (1729), xiii-xiv.
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I once lodged in Hanover in a room whose window gave on to a narrow Street which formed a communicating link between two bigger streets. It was very pleasant to see how people's faces changed when they entered the little Street, where they thought they were less observed; how here one pissed, there another fixed her garter, one gave way to private laughter and another shook his head. Girls thought with a smile of the night before and adjusted their ribbons for conquests in the big Street ahead.
Aphorism 19 in Notebook C (1772-1773), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 34.
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I picture the vast realm of the sciences as an immense landscape scattered with patches of dark and light. The goal towards which we must work is either to extend the boundaries of the patches of light, or to increase their number. One of these tasks falls to the creative genius; the other requires a sort of sagacity combined with perfectionism.
Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature and Other Philosophical Works (1753/4), ed. D. Adams (1999), Section XIV, 42.
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I pull a flower from the woods,
A monster with a glass
Computes the stamens in a breath,
And has her in a class.
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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 scrutinize life.
Part of a longer quote that begins, “You disembowel the animal…” on the Jean-Henri Fabre Quotes page of this website.
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I shall collect plants and fossils, and with the best of instruments make astronomic observations. Yet this is not the main purpose of my journey. I shall endeavor to find out how nature's forces act upon one another, and in what manner the geographic environment exerts its influence on animals and plants. In short, I must find out about the harmony in nature.
Letter to Karl Freiesleben (Jun 1799). In Helmut de Terra, Humboldt: The Life and Times of Alexander van Humboldt 1769-1859 (1955), 87.
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I shall conclude, for the time being, by saying that until Philosophers make observations (especially of mountains) that are longer, more attentive, orderly, and interconnected, and while they fail to recognize the two great agents, fire and water, in their distinct affects, they will not be able to understand the causes of the great natural variety in the disposition, structure, and other matter that can be observed in the terrestrial globe in a manner that truly corresponds to the facts and to the phenomena of Nature.
'Aleune Osservazioni Orittologiche fatte nei Monti del Vicentino', Giomale d’Italia, 1769, 5, 411, trans. Ezio Vaccari.
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I therefore concluded, and decided unhesitatingly, that there are three stars in the heavens moving about Jupiter, as Venus and Mercury about the Sun; which at length was established as clear as daylight by numerous other observations.
Referring to his pioneering telescope observations.
The Starry Messenger (Mar 1610). Quoted in Edmund Blair Bolles, Galileo's Commandment (1999), 104.
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I think that the event which, more than anything else, led me to the search for ways of making more powerful radio telescopes, was the recognition, in 1952, that the intense source in the constellation of Cygnus was a distant galaxy—1000 million light years away. This discovery showed that some galaxies were capable of producing radio emission about a million times more intense than that from our own Galaxy or the Andromeda nebula, and the mechanisms responsible were quite unknown. ... [T]he possibilities were so exciting even in 1952 that my colleagues and I set about the task of designing instruments capable of extending the observations to weaker and weaker sources, and of exploring their internal structure.
From Nobel Lecture (12 Dec 1974). In Stig Lundqvist (ed.), Nobel Lectures, Physics 1971-1980 (1992), 187.
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I wish that one would be persuaded that psychological experiments, especially those on the complex functions, are not improved [by large studies]; the statistical method gives only mediocre results; some recent examples demonstrate that. The American authors, who love to do things big, often publish experiments that have been conducted on hundreds and thousands of people; they instinctively obey the prejudice that the persuasiveness of a work is proportional to the number of observations. This is only an illusion.
L' Études expérimentale de l'intelligence (1903), 299.
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I would by all means have men beware, lest Æsop’s pretty fable of the fly that sate [sic] on the pole of a chariot at the Olympic races and said, “What a dust do I raise,” be verified in them. For so it is that some small observation, and that disturbed sometimes by the instrument, sometimes by the eye, sometimes by the calculation, and which may be owing to some real change in the heaven, raises new heavens and new spheres and circles.
'Of Vain Glory' (1625) in James Spedding, Robert Ellis and Douglas Heath (eds.), The Works of Francis Bacon (1887-1901), Vol. 6, 503.
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I would teach the world that science is the best way to understand the world, and that for any set of observations, there is only one correct explanation. Also, science is value-free, as it explains the world as it is. Ethical issues arise only when science is applied to technology – from medicine to industry.
Response to question “What is the one thing everyone should learn about science?” in 'Life Lessons' The Guardian (7 Apr 2005).
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I'm not smart. I try to observe. Millions saw the apple fall but Newton was the one who asked 'why.'
Quoted in New York Post (24 Jun 1965). In Alfred J. Kolatch, Great Jewish Quotations (1996), 38-39.
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If some race of quadrumanous animals, especially one of the most perfect of them, were to lose, by force of circumstances or some other cause, the habit of climbing trees and grasping the branches with its feet in the same way as with its hands, in order to hold on to them; and if the individuals of this race were forced for a series of generations to use their feet only for walking, and to give up using their hands like feet; there is no doubt, according to the observations detailed in the preceding chapter, that these quadrumanous animals would at length be transformed into bimanous, and that the thumbs on their feet would cease to be separated from the other digits, when they only used their feet for walking.
Philosophie Zoologique (1809), Vol. 1, 349, trans. Hugh Elliot (1914), 170.
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If the Commission is to enquire into the conditions “to be observed,” it is to be presumed that they will give the result of their enquiries; or, in other words, that they will lay down, or at least suggest, “rules” and “conditions to be (hereafter) observed” in the construction of bridges, or, in other words, embarrass and shackle the progress of improvement to-morrow by recording and registering as law the prejudices or errors of to-day.
[Objecting to any interference by the State with the freedom of civil engineers in the conduct of their professional work.]
Letter (13 Mar 1848) to the Royal Commission on the Application of Iron in Railway Structures. Collected in The Life of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Civil Engineer (1870), 487. The above verbatim quote may be the original source of the following statement as seen in books and on the web without citation: “I am opposed to the laying down of rules or conditions to be observed in the construction of bridges lest the progress of improvement tomorrow might be embarrassed or shackled by recording or registering as law the prejudices or errors of today.” Webmaster has not yet found a primary source for his latter form, and suspects it may be a synopsis, rather than a verbatim quote. If you know of such a primary source, please inform Webmaster.
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If the matter is one that can be settled by observation, make the observation yourself. Aristotle could have avoided the mistake of thinking that women have fewer teeth than men, by the simple device of asking Mrs. Aristotle to keep her mouth open while he counted.
In An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish (1943), 22.
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If the observation of the amount of heat the sun sends the earth is among the most important and difficult in astronomical physics, it may also be termed the fundamental problem of meteorology, nearly all whose phenomena would become predictable, if we knew both the original quantity and kind of this heat.
In Report of the Mount Whitney Expedition, quoted in Charles Greeley Abbot, Adventures in the World of Science (1958), 17. Also quoted and cited in David H. Devorkin, 'Charles Greeley Abbot', Biographical Memoirs (1998), 4.
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If the omniscient author of nature knew that the study of his works tends to make men disbelieve his Being or Attributes, he would not have given them so many invitations to study and contemplate Nature.
'Some considerations touching the usefulness of experimental philosophy' (1663). Quoted In Peter Gay, The Enlightenment (1977), 140.
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If this fire determined by the sun, be received on the blackest known bodies, its heat will be long retain'd therein; and hence such bodies are the soonest and the strongest heated by the flame fire, as also the quickest dried, after having been moisten'd with water; and it may be added, that they also burn by much the readiest: all which points are confirm'd by daily observations. Let a piece of cloth be hung in the air, open to the sun, one part of it dyed black, another part of a white colour, others of scarlet, and diverse other colours; the black part will always be found to heat the most, and the quickest of all; and the others will each be found to heat more slowly, by how much they reflect the rays more strongly to the eye; thus the white will warm the slowest of them all, and next to that the red, and so of the rest in proportion, as their colour is brighter or weaker.
A New Method of Chemistry, 2nd edition (1741), 262.
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If we look at the problems raised by Aristotle, we are astonished at his gift of observation. What wonderful eyes the Greeks had for many things! Only they committed the mistake of being overhasty, of passing straightway from the phenomenon to the explanation of it, and thereby produced certain theories that are quite inadequate. But this is the mistake of all times, and still made in our own day.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 195.
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If we range through the whole territory of nature, and endeavour to extract from each department the rich stores of knowledge and pleasure they respectively contain, we shall not find a more refined or purer source of amusement, or a more interesting and unfailing subject for recreation, than that which the observation and examination of the structure, affinities, and habits of plants and vegetables, afford.
In A Practical Treatise on the Cultivation of the Dahlia (1838), 2.
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In a sense, the galaxy hardest for us to see is our own. For one thing, we are imprisoned within it, while the others can be viewed as a whole from outside… . Furthermore, we are far out from the center, and to make matters worse, we lie in a spiral arm clogged with dust. In other words, we are on a low roof on the outskirts of the city on a foggy day.
In The Intelligent Man's Guide to the Physical Sciences (1960, 1968), 64. Also in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 185.
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In a word, I consider hospitals only as the entrance to scientific medicine; they are the first field of observation which a physician enters; but the true sanctuary of medical science is a laboratory; only there can he seek explanations of life in the normal and pathological states by means of experimental analysis.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 146.
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In all speculations on the origin, or agents that have produced the changes on this globe, it is probable that we ought to keep within the boundaries of the probable effects resulting from the regular operations of the great laws of nature which our experience and observation have brought within the sphere of our knowledge. When we overleap those limits, and suppose a total change in nature's laws, we embark on the sea of uncertainty, where one conjecture is perhaps as probable as another; for none of them can have any support, or derive any authority from the practical facts wherewith our experience has brought us acquainted.
Observations on the Geology of the United States of America (1817), iv-v.
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In August, 1896, I exposed the sodium flame to large magnetic forces by placing it between the poles of a strong electromagnet. Again I studied the radiation of the flame by means of Rowland's mirror, the observations being made in the direction perpendicular to the lines of force. Each line, which in the absence of the effect of the magnetic forces was very sharply defined, was now broadened. This indicated that not only the original oscillations, but also others with greater and again others with smaller periods of oscillation were being radiated by the flame. The change was however very small. In an easily produced magnetic field it corresponded to a thirtieth of the distance between the two sodium lines, say two tenths of an Angstrom, a unit of measure whose name will always recall to physicists the meritorious work done by the father of my esteemed colleague.
'Light Radiation in a Magnetic Field', Nobel Lecture, 2 May 1903. In Nobel Lectures: Physics 1901-1921 (1967), 34-5.
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In fact, we will have to give up taking things for granted, even the apparently simple things. We have to learn to understand nature and not merely to observe it and endure what it imposes on us. Stupidity, from being an amiable individual defect, has become a social crime.
The Origin of Life (1967), 163.
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In my first publication I might have claimed that I had come to the conclusion, as a result of serious study of the literature and deep thought, that valuable antibacterial substances were made by moulds and that I set out to investigate the problem. That would have been untrue and I preferred to tell the truth that penicillin started as a chance observation. My only merit is that I did not neglect the observation and that I pursued the subject as a bacteriologist. My publication in 1929 was the starting-point of the work of others who developed penicillin especially in the chemical field.
'Penicillin', Nobel Lecture, 11 Dec 1945. In Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1942-1962 (1964), 83.
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In natural science the principles of truth ought to be confirmed by observation.
Philosophia Botanica (1751), final sentence. Trans. Frans A. Stafleu, Linnaeus and the Linneans: The Spreading of their Ideas in Systematic Botany, 1735-1789 (1971), 31.
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In no subject is there a rule, compliance with which will lead to new knowledge or better understanding. Skilful observations, ingenious ideas, cunning tricks, daring suggestions, laborious calculations, all these may be required to advance a subject. Occasionally the conventional approach in a subject has to be studiously followed; on other occasions it has to be ruthlessly disregarded. Which of these methods, or in what order they should be employed is generally unpredictable. Analogies drawn from the history of science are frequently claimed to be a guide; but, as with forecasting the next game of roulette, the existence of the best analogy to the present is no guide whatever to the future. The most valuable lesson to be learnt from the history of scientific progress is how misleading and strangling such analogies have been, and how success has come to those who ignored them.
'Cosmology', in Arthur Beer (ed.), Vistas in Astronomy (1956), Vol. 2, 1722.
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In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be, preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here, then, I had at last got a theory by which to work; but I was so anxious to avoid prejudice, that I determined not for some time to write even the briefest sketch of it.
In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters (1892), 40.
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In order that the facts obtained by observation and experiment may be capable of being used in furtherance of our exact and solid knowledge, they must be apprehended and analysed according to some Conceptions which, applied for this purpose, give distinct and definite results, such as can be steadily taken hold of and reasoned from.
Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1840), Vol. 2, 205.
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In order to discover Truth in this manner by observation and reason, it is requisite we should fix on some principles whose certainty and effects are demonstrable to our senses, which may serve to explain the phenomena of natural bodies and account for the accidents that arise in them; such only are those which are purely material in the human body with mechanical and physical experiments … a physician may and ought to furnish himself with, and reason from, such things as are demonstrated to be true in anatomy, chemistry, and mechanics, with natural and experimental philosophy, provided he confines his reasoning within the bounds of truth and simple experiment.
As quoted in selection from the writings of Herman Boerhaave, collected in Oliver Joseph Thatcher (ed.), The Ideas that Have Influenced Civilization, in the Original Documents (1800), Vol. 6, 242.
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In science it is no crime to be wrong, unless you are (inappropriately) laying claim to truth. What matters is that science as a whole is a self-correcting mechanism in which both new and old notions are constantly under scrutiny. In other words, the edifice of scientific knowledge consists simply of a body of observations and ideas that have (so far) proven resistant to attack, and that are thus accepted as working hypotheses about nature.
In The Monkey in the Mirror: Essays on the Science of What Makes Us Human (2003), 9.
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In the beginning there were only probabilities. The universe could only come into existence if someone observed it. It does not matter that the observers turned up several billion years later. The universe exists because we are aware of it.
In 'The Anthropic Universe', New Scientist (6 Aug 1987), 46.
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In the collecting of evidence upon any medical subject, there are but three sources from which we can hope to obtain it: viz. from observation of the living subject; from examination of the dead; and from experiments upon living animals.
Astley Cooper and Benjamin Travers, Surgical Essays (1821), Vol. 1, 84. In Ira M. Rutkow, The History of Surgery in the United States, 1775-1900 (1988), 394.
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In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.
In a lecture at the University of Lille, December 7, 1854.
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In the final, the positive, state, the mind has given over the vain search after absolute notions, the origin and destination of the universe, and the causes of phenomena, and applies itself to the study of their laws—that is, their invariable relations of succession and resemblance. Reasoning and observation, duly combined, are the means of this knowledge. What is now understood when we speak of an explanation of facts is simply the establishment of a connection between single phenomena and some general facts.
The Positive Philosophy, trans. Harriet Martineau (1853), Vol. 1, 2.
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In the great debates of early-nineteenth century geology, catastrophists followed the stereotypical method of objective science-empirical literalism. They believed what they saw, interpolated nothing, and read the record of the rocks directly.
'The Stinkstones of Oeningen', In Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes (1983), 105.
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In the philosophic sense, observation shows and experiment teaches.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (1957), 5.
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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.
From Under the Apple-Trees (1916), 302.
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In the school of political projectors, I was but ill entertained, the professors appearing, in my judgment, wholly out of their senses; which is a scene that never fails to make me melancholy. These unhappy people were proposing schemes for persuading monarchs to choose favourites upon the score of their wisdom, capacity, and virtue; of teaching ministers to consult the public good; of rewarding merit, great abilities, and eminent services; of instructing princes to know their true interest, by placing it on the same foundation with that of their people; of choosing for employment persons qualified to exercise them; with many other wild impossible chimeras, that never entered before into the heart of man to conceive, and confirmed in me the old observation, that there is nothing so extravagant and irrational which some philosophers have not maintained for truth.
Gulliver's Travels (1726, Penguin ed. 1967), Part III, Chap. 6, 232.
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In this physical world there is no real chaos; all is in fact orderly; all is ordered by the physical principles. Chaos is but unperceived order- it is a word indicating the limitations of the human mind and the paucity of observational facts. The words “chaos,” “accidental,” “chance,” “unpredictable," are conveniences behind which we hide our ignorance.
From Of Stars and Men: The Human Response to an Expanding Universe (1958 Rev. Ed. 1964), Foreword.
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Inexact method of observation, as I believe, is one flaw in clinical pathology to-day. Prematurity of conclusion is another, and in part follows from the first; but in chief part an unusual craving and veneration for hypothesis, which besets the minds of most medical men, is responsible. Except in those sciences which deal with the intangible or with events of long past ages, no treatises are to be found in which hypothesis figures as it does in medical writings. The purity of a science is to be judged by the paucity of its recorded hypotheses. Hypothesis has its right place, it forms a working basis; but it is an acknowledged makeshift, and, at the best, of purpose unaccomplished. Hypothesis is the heart which no man with right purpose wears willingly upon his sleeve. He who vaunts his lady love, ere yet she is won, is apt to display himself as frivolous or his lady a wanton.
The Mechanism and Graphic Registration of the Heart Beat (1920), vii.
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It appears, then, to be a condition of a genuinely scientific hypothesis, that it be not destined always to remain an hypothesis, but be certain to be either proved or disproved by.. .comparison with observed facts.
A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive (1858), 293.
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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.
In 'Mathematics', in Henry Kiddle and Alexander J. Schem, The Cyclopedia of Education, (1877.) As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 27-29.
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It has been said that no science is established on a firm basis unless its generalisations can be expressed in terms of number, and it is the special province of mathematics to assist the investigator in finding numerical relations between phenomena. After experiment, then mathematics. While a science is in the experimental or observational stage, there is little scope for discerning numerical relations. It is only after the different workers have “collected data” that the mathematician is able to deduce the required generalisation. Thus a Maxwell followed Faraday and a Newton completed Kepler.
In Higher Mathematics for Students of Chemistry and Physics (1902), 3.
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It is a common observation that a science first begins to be exact when it is quantitatively treated. What are called the exact sciences are no others than the mathematical ones.
On The Doctrine of Chances, with Later Reflections (1878), 61.
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It is a good principle in science not to believe any “fact”—however well attested—until it fits into some accepted frame of reference. Occasionally, of course, an observation can shatter the frame and force the construction of a new one, but that is extremely rare. Galileos and Einsteins seldom appear more than once per century, which is just as well for the equanimity of mankind.
…...
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It is a misfortune for a science to be born too late when the means of observation have become too perfect. That is what is happening at this moment with respect to physical chemistry; the founders are hampered in their general grasp by third and fourth decimal places.
Science and Hypothesis (1902), trans. W. J. G. and preface by J. Larmor (1905), 181.
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It is a misfortune to pass at once from observation to conclusion, and to regard both as of equal value; but it befalls many a student.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 183.
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It is admitted by all that a finished or even a competent reasoner is not the work of nature alone; the experience of every day makes it evident that education develops faculties which would otherwise never have manifested their existence. It is, therefore, as necessary to learn to reason before we can expect to be able to reason, as it is to learn to swim or fence, in order to attain either of those arts. Now, something must be reasoned upon, it matters not much what it is, provided it can be reasoned upon with certainty. The properties of mind or matter, or the study of languages, mathematics, or natural history, may be chosen for this purpose. Now of all these, it is desirable to choose the one which admits of the reasoning being verified, that is, in which we can find out by other means, such as measurement and ocular demonstration of all sorts, whether the results are true or not. When the guiding property of the loadstone was first ascertained, and it was necessary to learn how to use this new discovery, and to find out how far it might be relied on, it would have been thought advisable to make many passages between ports that were well known before attempting a voyage of discovery. So it is with our reasoning faculties: it is desirable that their powers should be exerted upon objects of such a nature, that we can tell by other means whether the results which we obtain are true or false, and this before it is safe to trust entirely to reason. Now the mathematics are peculiarly well adapted for this purpose, on the following grounds:
1. Every term is distinctly explained, and has but one meaning, and it is rarely that two words are employed to mean the same thing.
2. The first principles are self-evident, and, though derived from observation, do not require more of it than has been made by children in general.
3. The demonstration is strictly logical, taking nothing for granted except self-evident first principles, resting nothing upon probability, and entirely independent of authority and opinion.
4. When the conclusion is obtained by reasoning, its truth or falsehood can be ascertained, in geometry by actual measurement, in algebra by common arithmetical calculation. This gives confidence, and is absolutely necessary, if, as was said before, reason is not to be the instructor, but the pupil.
5. There are no words whose meanings are so much alike that the ideas which they stand for may be confounded. Between the meaning of terms there is no distinction, except a total distinction, and all adjectives and adverbs expressing difference of degrees are avoided.
In On the Study and Difficulties of Mathematics (1898), chap. 1.
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It is by mathematical formulation of its observations and measurements that a science is able to form mathematically expressed hypotheses, and it is through its hypotheses that a natural science is able to make predictions.
The Nature of Science, and Other Essays (1971), 14.
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It is curious to observe with what different degrees of architectonic skill Providence has endowed birds of the same genus, and so nearly correspondent in their general mode of life! for while the swallow and the house-martin discover the greatest address in raising and securely fixing crusts or shells of loam as cunabula for their young, the bank-martin terebrates a round and regular hole in the sand or earth, which is serpentine, horizontal, and about two feet deep. At the inner end of this burrow does this bird deposit, in a good degree of safety, her rude nest, consisting of fine grasses and feathers, usually goose-feathers, very inartificially laid together.
In Letter to Daines Barrington, (26 Feb 1774), in The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789), 176.
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It is distinctly proved, by this series of observations, that the reflex function exists in the medulla independently of the brain; in the medulla oblongata independently of the medulla spinalis; and in the spinal marrow of the anterior extremities, of the posterior extremities, and of the tail, independently of that of each other of these parts, respectively. There is still a more interesting and satisfactory mode of performing the experiment: it is to divide the spinal marrow between the nerves of the superior and inferior extremities. We have then two modes of animal life : the first being the assemblage of the voluntary and respiratory powers with those of the reflex function and irritability; the second, the two latter powers only: the first are those which obtain in the perfect animal, the second those which animate the foetus. The phenomena are precisely what might have been anticipated. If the spinal marrow be now destroyed, the irritability alone remains,—all the other phenomena having ceased.
'On the Reflex Function of the Medulla Oblongata and Medulla Spinalis,' Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1833, 123, 650.
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It is imperative in the design process to have a full and complete understanding of how failure is being obviated in order to achieve success. Without fully appreciating how close to failing a new design is, its own designer may not fully understand how and why a design works. A new design may prove to be successful because it has a sufficiently large factor of safety (which, of course, has often rightly been called a “factor of ignorance”), but a design's true factor of safety can never be known if the ultimate failure mode is unknown. Thus the design that succeeds (ie, does not fail) can actually provide less reliable information about how or how not to extrapolate from that design than one that fails. It is this observation that has long motivated reflective designers to study failures even more assiduously than successes.
In Design Paradigms: Case Histories of Error and Judgment in Engineering (1994), 31. books.google.comHenry Petroski - 1994
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It is impossible for us, who live in the latter ages of the world, to make observations in criticism, morality, or in any art or science, which have not been touched upon by others. We have little else left us but to represent the common sense of mankind in more strong, more beautiful, or more uncommon lights.
Spectator, No. 253. In Samuel Austin Allibone, Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay (1880), 60.
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It is indeed an Opinion strangely prevailing amongst Men, that Houses, Mountains, Rivers, and in a word all sensible Objects have an Existence Natural or Real, distinct from their being perceived by the Understanding. But with how great an Assurance and Acquiescence soever this Principle may be entertained in the World; yet whoever shall find in his Heart to call it in Question, may, if I mistake not, perceive it to involve a manifest Contradiction. For what are the forementioned Objects but the things we perceive by Sense, and what do we perceive besides our own Ideas or Sensations; and is it not plainly repugnant that anyone of these or any Combination of them should exist unperceived?
A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge [first published 1710], (1734),38.
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It is interesting to note how many fundamental terms which the social sciences are trying to adopt from physics have as a matter of historical fact originated in the social field. Take, for instance, the notion of cause. The Greek aitia or the Latin causa was originally a purely legal term. It was taken over into physics, developed there, and in the 18th century brought back as a foreign-born kind for the adoration of the social sciences. The same is true of the concept of law of nature. Originally a strict anthropomorphic conception, it was gradually depersonalized or dehumanized in the natural sciences and then taken over by the social sciences in an effort to eliminate final causes or purposes from the study of human affairs. It is therefore not anomalous to find similar transformations in the history of such fundamental concepts of statistics as average and probability. The concept of average was developed in the Rhodian laws as to the distribution of losses in maritime risks. After astronomers began to use it in correcting their observations, it spread to other physical sciences; and the prestige which it thus acquired has given it vogue in the social field. The term probability, as its etymology indicates, originates in practical and legal considerations of probing and proving.
The Statistical View of Nature (1936), 327-8.
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It is interesting to transport one’s self back to the times when Astronomy began; to observe how discoveries were connected together, how errors have got mixed up with truth, have delayed the knowledge of it, and retarded its progress; and, after having followed the various epochs and traversed every climate, finally to contemplate the edifice founded on the labours of successive centuries and of various nations.
Description of Bailly’s plan when writing his history of astronomy books, quoted by François Arago, trans. by William Henry Smyth, Baden Powell and Robert Grant, in 'Bailly', Biographies of Distinguished Scientific Men (1859), Vol. 1, 114. Arago first presented this biography of Bailly when he read it to the Academy of Sciences (26 Feb 1844).
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It is not therefore the business of philosophy, in our present situation in the universe, to attempt to take in at once, in one view, the whole scheme of nature; but to extend, with great care and circumspection, our knowledge, by just steps, from sensible things, as far as our observations or reasonings from them will carry us, in our enquiries concerning either the greater motions and operations of nature, or her more subtile and hidden works. In this way Sir Isaac Newton proceeded in his discoveries.
An Account of Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophical Discoveries, in Four Books (1748), 19.
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It is possible to read books on Natural History with intelligence and profit, and even to make good observations, without a scientific groundwork of biological instruction; and it is possible to arrive at empirical facts of hygiene and medical treatment without any physiological instruction. But in all three cases the absence of a scientific basis will render the knowledge fragmentary and incomplete; and this ought to deter every one from offering an opinion on debatable questions which pass beyond the limit of subjective observations. The psychologist who has not prepared himself by a study of the organism has no more right to be heard on the genesis of the psychical states, or of the relations between body and mind, than one of the laity has a right to be heard on a question of medical treatment.
The Physical Basis of Mind (1877), 4.
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It is said that Thales of Miletus, who was the first of the Greeks to devote himself to the study of the stars, was on one occasion so intent upon observing the heavens that he fell into a well, whereupon a maidservant laughed and remarked, “In his zeal for things in the sky he does not see what is at his feet.”
Thales
Apocryphal story, as given in Richard A. Gregory, Discovery: Or, The Spirit and Service of Science (1916), 21.
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It is structure that we look for whenever we try to understand anything. All science is built upon this search; we investigate how the cell is built of reticular material, cytoplasm, chromosomes; how crystals aggregate; how atoms are fastened together; how electrons constitute a chemical bond between atoms. We like to understand, and to explain, observed facts in terms of structure. A chemist who understands why a diamond has certain properties, or why nylon or hemoglobin have other properties, because of the different ways their atoms are arranged, may ask questions that a geologist would not think of formulating, unless he had been similarly trained in this way of thinking about the world.
‘The Place of Chemistry In the Integration of the Sciences’, Main Currents in Modern Thought (1950), 7, 110.
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It is the care we bestow on apparently trifling, unattractive detail and very troublesome minutiae which determines the result.
As quoted in William Bulloch, Obituary, 'Theobald Smith', Journal of Pathology and Bacteriology (May 1935), 40, No. 3, 621-625.
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It is the merest truism, evident at once to unsophisticated observation, that mathematics is a human invention.
In The Logic of Modern Physics (1927, 1972), 60.
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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.
In 'Gene and Organism', American Naturalist, (1953), 87, 17.
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It is usual to say that the two sources of experience are Observation and Experiment. When we merely note and record the phenomena which occur around us in the ordinary course of nature we are said to observe. When we change the course of nature by the intervention of our will and muscular powers, and thus produce unusual combinations and conditions of phenomena, we are said to experiment. [Sir John] Herschel has justly remarked that we might properly call these two modes of experience passive and active observation. In both cases we must certainly employ our senses to observe, and an experiment differs from a mere observation in the fact that we more or less influence the character of the events which we observe. Experiment is thus observation plus alteration of conditions.
Principles of Science: A Treatise on Logic and Scientific Method (1874, 2nd ed., 1913), 400.
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It is well known that theoretical physicists cannot handle experimental equipment; it breaks whenever they touch it. Pauli was such a good theoretical physicist that something usually broke in the lab whenever he merely stepped across the threshold. A mysterious event that did not seem at first to be connected with Pauli's presence once occurred in Professor J. Franck's laboratory in Göttingen. Early one afternoon, without apparent cause, a complicated apparatus for the study of atomic phenomena collapsed. Franck wrote humorously about this to Pauli at his Zürich address and, after some delay, received an answer in an envelope with a Danish stamp. Pauli wrote that he had gone to visit Bohr and at the time of the mishap in Franck's laboratory his train was stopped for a few minutes at the Göttingen railroad station. You may believe this anecdote or not, but there are many other observations concerning the reality of the Pauli Effect!
From Thirty Years That Shook Physics: The Story of Quantum Theory (1966), 64. Note the so-called Pauli Effect is merely anecdotal to provide humor about supposed parapsychology phenomena in coincidences involving Pauli; it should not be confused with scientifically significant Pauli Exclusion Principle.
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It must be admitted that science has its castes. The man whose chief apparatus is the differential equation looks down upon one who uses a galvanometer, and he in turn upon those who putter about with sticky and smelly things in test tubes. But all of these, and most biologists too, join together in their contempt for the pariah who, not through a glass darkly, but with keen unaided vision, observes the massing of a thundercloud on the horizon, the petal as it unfolds, or the swarming of a hive of bees. And yet sometimes I think that our laboratories are but little earthworks which men build about themselves, and whose puny tops too often conceal from view the Olympian heights; that we who work in these laboratories are but skilled artisans compared with the man who is able to observe, and to draw accurate deductions from the world about him.
The Anatomy of Science (1926), 170- 1.
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It need scarcely be pointed out that with such a mechanism complete isolation of portion of a species should result relatively rapidly in specific differentiation, and one that is not necessarily adaptive. The effective inter­group competition leading to adaptive advance may be between species rather than races. Such isolation is doubtless usually geographic in character at the outset but may be clinched by the development of hybrid sterility. The usual difference of the chromosome complements of related species puts the importance of chromosome aberration as an evolutionary process beyond question, but, as I see it, this importance is not in the character differences which they bring (slight in balanced types), but rather in leading to the sterility of hybrids and thus making permanent the isolation of two groups.
How far do the observations of actual species and their subdivisions conform to this picture? This is naturally too large a subject for more than a few suggestions.
That evolution involves non-adaptive differentiation to a large extent at the subspecies and even the species level is indicated by the kinds of differences by which such groups are actually distinguished by systematics. It is only at the subfamily and family levels that clear-cut adaptive differences become the rule. The principal evolutionary mechanism in the origin of species must thus be an essentially nonadaptive one.
In Proceedings of the Sixth International Congress of Genetics: Ithaca, New York, 1932 (1932) Vol. 1, 363-364.
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