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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index P > Category: Preference

Preference Quotes (28 quotes)

Responding to the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce's question whether he traced his descent from an ape on his mother's or his father's side:
If then, said I, the question is put to me would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather or a man highly endowed by nature and possessing great means and influence and yet who employs those faculties for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion—I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape.
Letter to Dr. Dyster (9 Sep 1860), Huxley Papers, Imperial College of Science and Technology. Quoted in D.J. Foskett, 'Wilberforce and Huxley on Evolution' in a letter to Nature, 1953, 172, 920.
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A bilious philosopher’s opinion of the world can only be accepted with a pinch of salt, of Epsom salt by preference.
From essay in Proper Studies: The Proper Study of Mankind Is Man (1927). Extract published in Vanity Fair (1927), 28, No. 4, 100.
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A man has a very insecure tenure of a property which another can carry away with his eyes. A few months reduced me to the cruel necessity either of destroying my machine, or of giving it to the public. To destroy it, I could not think of; to give up that for which I had laboured so long, was cruel. I had no patent, nor the means of purchasing one. In preference to destroying, I gave it to the public.
[On his inability to keep for himself a profitable income from his invention of the Spinning Mule.]
As quoted in James Mason, The Great Triumphs of Great Men (1875), 579.
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Coming to the question of life being found on other planets, Professor Haldane apologized for discoursing, as a mere biologist, on a subject on which we had been expecting a lecture by a physicist [J. D. Bernal]. He mentioned three hypotheses:
(a) That life had a supernatural origin,
(b) That it originated from inorganic materials, and (c) That life is a constituent of the Universe and can only arise from pre-existing life. The first hypothesis, he said, should be taken seriously, and he would proceed to do so. From the fact that there are 400,000 species of beetle on this planet, but only 8,000 species of mammals, he concluded that the Creator, if he exists, has a special preference for beetles, and so we might be more likely to meet them than any other type of animal on a planet which would support life.
In Mark Williamson, 'Haldane’s Special Preference', The Linnean, 1992, 8, 14.
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Few will deny that even in the first scientific instruction in mathematics the most rigorous method is to be given preference over all others. Especially will every teacher prefer a consistent proof to one which is based on fallacies or proceeds in a vicious circle, indeed it will be morally impossible for the teacher to present a proof of the latter kind consciously and thus in a sense deceive his pupils. Notwithstanding these objectionable so-called proofs, so far as the foundation and the development of the system is concerned, predominate in our textbooks to the present time. Perhaps it will be answered, that rigorous proof is found too difficult for the pupil’s power of comprehension. Should this be anywhere the case,—which would only indicate some defect in the plan or treatment of the whole,—the only remedy would be to merely state the theorem in a historic way, and forego a proof with the frank confession that no proof has been found which could be comprehended by the pupil; a remedy which is ever doubtful and should only be applied in the case of extreme necessity. But this remedy is to be preferred to a proof which is no proof, and is therefore either wholly unintelligible to the pupil, or deceives him with an appearance of knowledge which opens the door to all superficiality and lack of scientific method.
In 'Stücke aus dem Lehrbuche der Arithmetik', Werke, Bd. 2 (1904), 296.
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How then did we come to the “standard model”? And how has it supplanted other theories, like the steady state model? It is a tribute to the essential objectivity of modern astrophysics that this consensus has been brought about, not by shifts in philosophical preference or by the influence of astrophysical mandarins, but by the pressure of empirical data.
In The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe (1977), 9.
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In science, read, by preference, the newest works; in literature, the oldest.
Caxtoniana: A Series of Essays on Life, Literature, and Manners (1863), Vol. I, 169.
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It is because simplicity and vastness are both beautiful that we seek by preference simple facts and vast facts; that we take delight, now in following the giant courses of the stars, now in scrutinizing the microscope that prodigious smallness which is also a vastness, and now in seeking in geological ages the traces of a past that attracts us because of its remoteness.
…...
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It is not only a decided preference for synthesis and a complete denial of general methods which characterizes the ancient mathematics as against our newer Science [modern mathematics]: besides this extemal formal difference there is another real, more deeply seated, contrast, which arises from the different attitudes which the two assumed relative to the use of the concept of variability. For while the ancients, on account of considerations which had been transmitted to them from the Philosophie school of the Eleatics, never employed the concept of motion, the spatial expression for variability, in their rigorous system, and made incidental use of it only in the treatment of phonoromically generated curves, modern geometry dates from the instant that Descartes left the purely algebraic treatment of equations and proceeded to investigate the variations which an algebraic expression undergoes when one of its variables assumes a continuous succession of values.
In 'Untersuchungen über die unendlich oft oszillierenden und unstetigen Functionen', Ostwald’s Klassiker der exacten Wissenschaften (1905), No. 153, 44-45. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 115. From the original German, “Nicht allein entschiedene Vorliebe für die Synthese und gänzliche Verleugnung allgemeiner Methoden charakterisiert die antike Mathematik gegenüber unserer neueren Wissenschaft; es gibt neben diesem mehr äußeren, formalen, noch einen tiefliegenden realen Gegensatz, welcher aus der verschiedenen Stellung entspringt, in welche sich beide zu der wissenschaftlichen Verwendung des Begriffes der Veränderlichkeit gesetzt haben. Denn während die Alten den Begriff der Bewegung, des räumlichen Ausdruckes der Veränderlichkeit, aus Bedenken, die aus der philosophischen Schule der Eleaten auf sie übergegangen waren, in ihrem strengen Systeme niemals und auch in der Behandlung phoronomisch erzeugter Kurven nur vorübergehend verwenden, so datiert die neuere Mathematik von dem Augenblicke, als Descartes von der rein algebraischen Behandlung der Gleichungen dazu fortschritt, die Größenveränderungen zu untersuchen, welche ein algebraischer Ausdruck erleidet, indem eine in ihm allgemein bezeichnete Größe eine stetige Folge von Werten durchläuft.”
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It is told of Faraday that he refused to be called a physicist; he very much disliked the new name as being too special and particular and insisted on the old one, philosopher, in all its spacious generality: we may suppose that this was his way of saying that he had not over-ridden the limiting conditions of class only to submit to the limitation of a profession.
Commentary (Jun 1962), 33, 461-77. Cited by Sydney Ross in Nineteenth-Century Attitudes: Men of Science (1991), 11.
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Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of Mankind is Man.
Plac'd on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic's pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast;
In doubt his Mind or Body to prefer,
Born but to die, and reas'ning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
Chaos of Thought and Passion, all confus'd;
Still by himself abus'd, or disabus'd;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of Truth, in endless Error hurl'd:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!
... Superior beings, when of late they saw
A mortal Man unfold all Nature's law,
Admir'd such wisdom in an earthly shape,
And shew'd a NEWTON as we shew an Ape.
'An Essay on Man' (1733-4), Epistle II. In John Butt (ed.), The Poems of Alexander Pope (1965), 516-7.
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Many will, no doubt, prefer to retain old unsystematic names as far as possible, but it is easy to see that the desire to avoid change may carry us too far in this direction; it will undoubtedly be very inconvenient to the present generation of chemists to abandon familiar and cherished names, but nevertheless it may be a wise course to boldly face the difficulty, rather than inflict on coming generations a partially illogical and unsystematic nomenclature.
'International Conference on Chemical Nomenclature', Nature (19 May 1892), 46, 57.
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Nature is objective, and nature is knowable, but we can only view her through a glass darkly–and many clouds upon our vision are of our own making: social and cultural biases, psychological preferences, and mental limitations (in universal modes of thought, not just individualized stupidity).
…...
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Nature prefers the more probable states to the less probable because in nature processes take place in the direction of greater probability. Heat goes from a body at higher temperature to a body at lower temperature because the state of equal temperature distribution is more probable than a state of unequal temperature distribution.
'The Atomic Theory of Matter', third lecture at Columbia University (1909), in Max Planck and A. P. Wills (trans.), Eight Lectures on Theoretical Physics (1915), 44.
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Philosophy is to science as pornography is to sex: it is cheaper, easier and some people prefer it.
Review of Simon Pinker, How the Mind Works (1997). In New York Review of Books (6 Nov 1997).
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Romantics might like to think of themselves as being composed of stardust. Cynics might prefer to think of themselves as nuclear waste.
In Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe (2005), 389.
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The assumption we have made … is that marriages and the union of gametes occur at random. The validity of this assumption may now be examined. “Random mating” obviously does not mean promiscuity; it simply means, as already explained above, that in the choice of mates for marriage there is neither preference for nor aversion to the union of persons similar or dissimilar with respect to a given trait or gene. Not all gentlemen prefer blondes or brunettes. Since so few people know what their blood type is, it is even safer to say that the chances of mates being similar or dissimilar in blood type are determined simply by the incidence of these blood types in a given Mendelian population.
[Co-author with Theodosius Dobzhansky]
In Radiation, Genes and Man (1960), 107.
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The chances for favorable serendipity are increased if one studies an animal that is not one of the common laboratory species. Atypical animals, or preparations, force one to use non-standard approaches and non-standard techniques, and even to think nonstandard ideas. My own preference is to seek out species which show some extreme of adaptation. Such organisms often force one to abandon standard methods and standard points of view. Almost inevitably they lead one to ask new questions, and most importantly in trying to comprehend their special and often unusual adaptations one often serendipitously stumbles upon new insights.
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 234.
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The colleges of Edinburgh and Geneva as seminaries of science, are considered as the two eyes of Europe. While Great Britain and America give the preference to the former, all other countries give it to the latter.
Letter to Wilson Nicholas (Monticello, Nov 1794). In Thomas Jefferson and John P. Foley (ed.), The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia (1900), 5. From Paul Leicester Ford (ed.), The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1892-99). Vol 6, 513.
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The instinctive tendency of the scientific man is toward the existential substrate that appears when use and purpose—cosmic significance, artistic value, social utility, personal preference—have been removed. He responds positively to the bare “what” of things; he responds negatively to any further demand for interest or appreciation.
In Systemic Psychology: Prolegomena (1929), 32-33.
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The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it.
In Monstrous Regiment (2004), 211.
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The radical novelty of modern science lies precisely in the rejection of the belief, which is at the heart of all popular religion, that the forces which move the stars and atoms are contingent upon the preferences of the human heart.
In A Preface to Morals (1929, 1982), 127.
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The trend of mathematics and physics towards unification provides the physicist with a powerful new method of research into the foundations of his subject. … The method is to begin by choosing that branch of mathematics which one thinks will form the basis of the new theory. One should be influenced very much in this choice by considerations of mathematical beauty. It would probably be a good thing also to give a preference to those branches of mathematics that have an interesting group of transformations underlying them, since transformations play an important role in modern physical theory, both relativity and quantum theory seeming to show that transformations are of more fundamental importance than equations.
From Lecture delivered on presentation of the James Scott prize, (6 Feb 1939), 'The Relation Between Mathematics And Physics', printed in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1938-1939), 59, Part 2, 122.
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The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what's true. We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth—never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities. Cleverly designed experiments are the key.
In 'Wonder and Skepticism', Skeptical Enquirer (Jan-Feb 1995), 19, No. 1.
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There cannot be design without a designer; contrivance without a contriver; order without choice; arrangement, without any thing capable of arranging; subserviency and relation to a purpose; means suitable to an end, and executing their office in accomplishing that end, without the end ever having been contemplated, or the means accommodated to it. Arrangement, disposition of parts, subserviency of means to an end, relation of instruments to use, imply the preference of intelligence and mind.
Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of The Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature (1802), 12.
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We can invent as many theories we like, and any one of them can be made to fit the facts. But that theory is always preferred which makes the fewest number of assumptions.
From interview by S.J. Woolf, 'Einstein’s Own Corner of Space’, New York Times (18 Aug 1929), Sunday Magazine, 2.
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We prefer economic growth to clean air.
Quoted in H. Mark Roelofs and Gerald L. Houseman, The American Political System: Ideology and Myth (1983), 539.
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With your talents and industry, with science, and that steadfast honesty which eternally pursues right, regardless of consequences, you may promise yourself every thing—but health, without which there is no happiness. An attention to health then should take place of evey other object. The time necessary to secure this by active exercises, should be devoted to it in preference to every other pursuit.
Letter to Tomas Mann Randolph, Jr., (6 Jul 1787), In Thomas Jefferson and Paul Leicester Ford (ed.) The Works of Thomas Jefferson (1904), Vol. 5, 300. Julian P. Boyd (Ed.), The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (1955), Vol. 11, 558.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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