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

Probability Quotes (106 quotes)

Une même expression, dont les géomètres avaient considéré les propriétés abstraites, … représente'aussi le mouvement de la lumière dans l’atmosphère, quelle détermine les lois de la diffusion de la chaleur dans la matière solide, et quelle entre dans toutes les questions principales de la théorie des probabilités.
The same expression whose abstract properties geometers had considered … represents as well the motion of light in the atmosphere, as it determines the laws of diffusion of heat in solid matter, and enters into all the chief problems of the theory of probability.
From Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), translated by Alexander Freeman in The Analytical Theory of Heat (1878), 7.
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[Attributing the origin of life to spontaneous generation.] However improbable we regard this event, it will almost certainly happen at least once…. The time… is of the order of two billion years.… Given so much time, the “impossible” becomes possible, the possible probable, and the probable virtually certain. One only has to wait: time itself performs the miracles.
In 'The Origin of Life', Scientific American (Aug 1964), 191, 46. Note that the quoted time of 2 billion years is rejected as impossibly short by such authors as H. J. Morowitz, in Energy Flow in Biology (1968), 317.
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A definition of what we mean by “probability”. … The German Dictionary by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm gives us detailed information: The Latin term “probabilis”, we are told, was at one time translated by “like truth”, or, by “with an appearance of truth” (“mit einem Schein der Wahrheit”). Only since the middle of the seventeenth century has it been rendered by “wahrscheinlich” (lit. truth-resembling).
In Probability, Statistics, and Truth (1939, 2nd. ed., 1957), 2.
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A distinguished writer [Siméon Denis Poisson] has thus stated the fundamental definitions of the science:
“The probability of an event is the reason we have to believe that it has taken place, or that it will take place.”
“The measure of the probability of an event is the ratio of the number of cases favourable to that event, to the total number of cases favourable or contrary, and all equally possible” (equally like to happen).
From these definitions it follows that the word probability, in its mathematical acceptation, has reference to the state of our knowledge of the circumstances under which an event may happen or fail. With the degree of information which we possess concerning the circumstances of an event, the reason we have to think that it will occur, or, to use a single term, our expectation of it, will vary. Probability is expectation founded upon partial knowledge. A perfect acquaintance with all the circumstances affecting the occurrence of an event would change expectation into certainty, and leave neither room nor demand for a theory of probabilities.
An Investigation of the Laws of Thought (1854), 243-244. The Poisson quote is footnoted as from Recherches sur la Probabilité des Jugemens.
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All knowledge degenerates into probability.
A Treatise on Human Nature (1739-40), ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge (1888), book 1, part 4, section 1, 180.
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All knowledge resolves itself into probability. ... In every judgment, which we can form concerning probability, as well as concerning knowledge, we ought always to correct the first judgment deriv'd from the nature of the object, by another judgment, deriv'd from the nature of the understanding.
In A treatise of Human Nature (1888), 181-182.
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Among all the occurrences possible in the universe the a priori probability of any particular one of them verges upon zero. Yet the universe exists; particular events must take place in it, the probability of which (before the event) was infinitesimal. At the present time we have no legitimate grounds for either asserting or denying that life got off to but a single start on earth, and that, as a consequence, before it appeared its chances of occurring were next to nil. ... Destiny is written concurrently with the event, not prior to it.
In Jacques Monod and Austryn Wainhouse (trans.), Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1971), 145.
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Anybody who looks at living organisms knows perfectly well that they can produce other organisms like themselves. This is their normal function, they wouldn’t exist if they didn’t do this, and it’s not plausible that this is the reason why they abound in the world. In other words, living organisms are very complicated aggregations of elementary parts, and by any reasonable theory of probability or thermodynamics highly improbable. That they should occur in the world at all is a miracle of the first magnitude; the only thing which removes, or mitigates, this miracle is that they reproduce themselves. Therefore, if by any peculiar accident there should ever be one of them, from there on the rules of probability do not apply, and there will be many of them, at least if the milieu is reasonable. But a reasonable milieu is already a thermodynamically much less improbable thing. So, the operations of probability somehow leave a loophole at this point, and it is by the process of self-reproduction that they are pierced.
From lecture series on self-replicating machines at the University of Illinois, Lecture 5 (Dec 1949), 'Re-evaluation of the Problems of Complicated Automata—Problems of Hierarchy and Evolution', Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata (1966).
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Are we prepared to admit, that our confidence in the regularity of nature is merely a corollary from Bernoulli’s theorem?
In 'On the Foundations of the Theory of Probabilities', read 14 Feb 1842, printed in Transactions of the Cambridge Philosophical Society (1849), 8, 1. Collected in William Walton (ed.), The Mathematical and Other Writings of Robert Leslie Ellis (1863), 1. Note: Jacques Bernouill’s theorem is also known as the Law of Averages.
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As a doctor, as a man of science, I can tell you there is no such thing as curses Everything just happens as a question of probability. The statistical likelihood of a specific event.
…...
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But it is necessary to insist more strongly than usual that what I am putting before you is a model—the Bohr model atom—because later I shall take you to a profounder level of representation in which the electron instead of being confined to a particular locality is distributed in a sort of probability haze all over the atom.
Messenger Lectures (1934), New Pathways in Science (1935), 34.
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Can any thoughtful person admit for a moment that, in a society so constituted that these overwhelming contrasts of luxury and privation are looked upon as necessities, and are treated by the Legislature as matters with which it has practically nothing do, there is the smallest probability that we can deal successfully with such tremendous social problems as those which involve the marriage tie and the family relation as a means of promoting the physical and moral advancement of the race? What a mockery to still further whiten the sepulchre of society, in which is hidden ‘all manner of corruption,’ with schemes for the moral and physical advancement of the race!
In 'Human Selection', Fortnightly Review (1890),48, 330.
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Despite the high long-term probability of extinction, every organism alive today, including every person reading this paper, is a link in an unbroken chain of parent-offspring relationships that extends back unbroken to the beginning of life on earth. Every living organism is a part of an enormously long success story—each of its direct ancestors has been sufficiently well adapted to its physical and biological environments to allow it to mature and reproduce successfully. Viewed thus, adaptation is not a trivial facet of natural history, but a biological attribute so central as to be inseparable from life itself.
In 'Integrative Biology: An Organismic Biologist’s Point of View', Integrative and Comparative Biology (2005), 45, 330.
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Entropy theory, on the other hand, is not concerned with the probability of succession in a series of items but with the overall distribution of kinds of items in a given arrangement.
In Entropy and Art: An Essay on Disorder and Order (1974), 19.
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Fate laughs at probabilities.
In Eugene Aram: A Tale (1832), 96.
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From the point of view of the pure morphologist the recapitulation theory is an instrument of research enabling him to reconstruct probable lines of descent; from the standpoint of the student of development and heredity the fact of recapitulation is a difficult problem whose solution would perhaps give the key to a true understanding of the real nature of heredity.
Form and Function: A Contribution to the History of Animal Morphology (1916), 312-3.
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Further, the same Arguments which explode the Notion of Luck, may, on the other side, be useful in some Cases to establish a due comparison between Chance and Design: We may imagine Chance and Design to be, as it were, in Competition with each other, for the production of some sorts of Events, and many calculate what Probability there is, that those Events should be rather be owing to the one than to the other.
Doctrine of Chances (1718), Preface, v.
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He who has heard the same thing told by twelve thousand ocular [eye]witnesses, has only twelve thousand probabilities, equal to one strong one, which is not equal to certainty.
In 'Truth', Philosophical Dictionary (1824), Vol. 6, 297.
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Here I shall present, without using Analysis [mathematics], the principles and general results of the Théorie, applying them to the most important questions of life, which are indeed, for the most part, only problems in probability. One may even say, strictly speaking, that almost all our knowledge is only probable; and in the small number of things that we are able to know with certainty, in the mathematical sciences themselves, the principal means of arriving at the truth—induction and analogy—are based on probabilities, so that the whole system of human knowledge is tied up with the theory set out in this essay.
Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1814), 5th edition (1825), trans. Andrew I. Dale (1995), 1.
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How often things occur by mere chance which we dared not even hope for.
Terence
In Phormio, v.1, 31, as quoted and cited in (1908), 109.
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However, the small probability of a similar encounter [of the earth with a comet], can become very great in adding up over a huge sequence of centuries. It is easy to picture to oneself the effects of this impact upon the Earth. The axis and the motion of rotation changed; the seas abandoning their old position to throw themselves toward the new equator; a large part of men and animals drowned in this universal deluge, or destroyed by the violent tremor imparted to the terrestrial globe.
Exposition du Système du Monde, 2nd edition (1799), 208, trans. Ivor Grattan-Guinness.
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Human personality resembles a coral reef: a large hard/dead structure built and inhabited by tiny soft/live animals. The hard/dead part of our personality consists of habits, memories, and compulsions and will probably be explained someday by some sort of extended computer metaphor. The soft/live part of personality consists of moment-to-moment direct experience of being. This aspect of personality is familiar but somewhat ineffable and has eluded all attempts at physical explanation.
Quoted in article 'Nick Herbert', in Gale Cengage Learning, Contemporary Authors Online (2002).
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I am convinced that it is impossible to expound the methods of induction in a sound manner, without resting them upon the theory of probability. Perfect knowledge alone can give certainty, and in nature perfect knowledge would be infinite knowledge, which is clearly beyond our capacities. We have, therefore, to content ourselves with partial knowledge—knowledge mingled with ignorance, producing doubt.
The Principles of Science: A Treatise on Logic and Scientific Method, 2nd edition (1877), 197.
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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 don't like it, and I'm sorry I ever had anything to do with it. [About the probability interpretation of quantum mechanics.]
Epigraph, without citation, in John Gribbin, In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality (1984), v, frontispiece.
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I may finally call attention to the probability that the association of paternal and maternal chromosomes in pairs and their subsequent separation during the reducing division as indicated above may constitute the physical basis of the Mendelian law of heredity.
'On the Morphology of the Chromosome Group in Brachystola Magna', Biological Bulletin (1902), 4, 39.
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I think that we shall have to get accustomed to the idea that we must not look upon science as a 'body of knowledge,' but rather as a system of hypotheses; that is to say, as a system of guesses or anticipations which in principle cannot be justified, but with which we work as long as they stand up to tests, and of which we are never justified in saying that we know they are 'true' or 'more or less certain' or even 'probable.'
The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959), 317.
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If an event can be produced by a number n of different causes, the probabilities of the existence of these causes, given the event (prises de l'événement), are to each other as the probabilities of the event, given the causes: and the probability of each cause is equal to the probability of the event, given that cause, divided by the sum of all the probabilities of the event, given each of the causes.
'Mémoire sur la Probabilité des Causes par les Événements' (1774). In Oeuvres complètes de Laplace, 14 Vols. (1843-1912), Vol. 8, 29, trans. Charles Coulston Gillispie, Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827: A Life in Exact Science (1997), 16.
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If everything in chemistry is explained in a satisfactory manner without the help of phlogiston, it is by that reason alone infinitely probable that the principle does not exist; that it is a hypothetical body, a gratuitous supposition; indeed, it is in the principles of good logic, not to multiply bodies without necessity.
'Reflexions sur le phlogistique', Mémoires de l'Académie des Sciences, 1783, 505-38. Reprinted in Oeuvres de Lavoisier (1864), Vol. 2, 623, trans. M. P. Crosland.
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If it be true, that some Chymists have now and then converted Lead into Gold, it was by just such a hazard, as if a man should let fall a handful of sand upon a table and the particles of it should be so ranged that we could read distinctly on it a whole page of Virgil’s Ænead.
In Traité de Physique, (1671, 1676), Part. 3, Chap. 6, 186. As translated in Rohault’s System of Natural Philosophy (1723), Part 3, Chap. 6, 154. From the original French, “Que s’il est vray que quelques Chymistes ayent autrefois converty du plomb en or, ça esté par un hazard aussi grand, que si ayant laissé tomber de haut une poignée de sable sur une table, ses gains s'estoient tellement rangez, qu'on y pût lire distinctement une page de l'Eneide de Virgile.”
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If scientific reasoning were limited to the logical processes of arithmetic, we should not get very far in our understanding of the physical world. One might as well attempt to grasp the game of poker entirely by the use of the mathematics of probability.
Endless Horizons (1946), 27.
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In a sense, of course, probability theory in the form of the simple laws of chance is the key to the analysis of warfare;… My own experience of actual operational research work, has however, shown that its is generally possible to avoid using anything more sophisticated. … In fact the wise operational research worker attempts to concentrate his efforts in finding results which are so obvious as not to need elaborate statistical methods to demonstrate their truth. In this sense advanced probability theory is something one has to know about in order to avoid having to use it.
In 'Operations Research', Physics Today (Nov 1951), 19. As cited by Maurice W. Kirby and Jonathan Rosenhead, 'Patrick Blackett (1897)' in Arjang A. Assad (ed.) and Saul I. Gass (ed.),Profiles in Operations Research: Pioneers and Innovators (2011), 25.
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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 flying, the probability of survival is inversely proportional to the angle of arrival.
Quoted in Richard H. Enns, George McGuire, Computer Algebra Recipes for Classical Mechanics (2003), 37.
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In recent years several new particles have been discovered which are currently assumed to be “elementary,” that is, essentially structureless. The probability that all such particles should be really elementary becomes less and less as their number increases. It is by no means certain that nucleons, mesons, electrons, neutrinos are all elementary particles.
Opening statement, Enrico Fermi and C.N. Yang, 'Are Mesons Elementary Particles?', Physical Review (1949), 76, 1739. As cited in James Gleick, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1992), 283.
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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 most modern theories of physics probability seems to have replaced aether as “the nominative of the verb ‘to undulate’.”
Messenger Lectures (1934), New Pathways in Science (1935), 110.
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In the whole of geophysics there is probably hardly another law of such clarity and reliability as this—that there are two preferential levels for the world’s surface which occur in alternation side by side and are represented by the continents and the ocean floors, respectively. It is therefore very surprising that scarcely anyone has tried to explain this law.
In The Origins of Continents and Oceans (4th ed. 1929), trans. John Biram (1966), 37.
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Is evolution a theory, a system or a hypothesis? It is much more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must bow and which they must satisfy henceforth if they are to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow. ... The consciousness of each of us is evolution looking at itself and reflecting upon itself....Man is not the center of the universe as once we thought in our simplicity, but something much more wonderful—the arrow pointing the way to the final unification of the world in terms of life. Man alone constitutes the last-born, the freshest, the most complicated, the most subtle of all the successive layers of life. ... The universe has always been in motion and at this moment continues to be in motion. But will it still be in motion tomorrow? ... What makes the world in which we live specifically modern is our discovery in it and around it of evolution. ... Thus in all probability, between our modern earth and the ultimate earth, there stretches an immense period, characterized not by a slowing-down but a speeding up and by the definitive florescence of the forces of evolution along the line of the human shoot.
In The Phenomenon of Man (1975), pp 218, 220, 223, 227, 228, 277.
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Is it possible that a promiscuous Jumble of Printing Letters should often fall into a Method and Order, which should stamp on Paper a coherent Discourse; or that a blind fortuitous Concourse of Atoms, not guided by an Understanding Agent, should frequently constitute the Bodies of any Species of Animals.
In 'Of Wrong Assent, or Error', An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (1706), Book 4, 601.
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It has been pointed out already that no knowledge of probabilities, less in degree than certainty, helps us to know what conclusions are true, and that there is no direct relation between the truth of a proposition and its probability. Probability begins and ends with probability. That a scientific investigation pursued on account of its probability will generally lead to truth, rather than falsehood, is at the best only probable.
In A Treatise on Probability (1921), 322.
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It is a happy world after all. The air, the earth, the water teem with delighted existence. In a spring noon, or a summer evening, on whichever side I turn my eyes, myriads of happy beings crowd upon my view. “The insect youth are on the wing.” Swarms of new-born flies are trying their pinions in the air. Their sportive motions, their wanton mazes, their gratuitous activity testify their joy and the exultation they feel in their lately discovered faculties … The whole winged insect tribe, it is probable, are equally intent upon their proper employments, and under every variety of constitution, gratified, and perhaps equally gratified, by the offices which the author of their nature has assigned to them.
Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of The Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature (1802), 490-1.
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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 easy without any very profound logical analysis to perceive the difference between a succession of favorable deviations from the laws of chance, and on the other hand, the continuous and cumulative action of these laws. It is on the latter that the principle of Natural Selection relies.
In The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (1930), 37. Reprinted as A Complete Variorum Edition (2003), 37.
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It is impossible for a Die, with such determin'd force and direction, not to fall on such determin'd side, only I don't know the force and direction which makes it fall on such determin'd side, and therefore I call it Chance, which is nothing but the want of art.... .
Of the Laws of Chance (1692), preface
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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 never possible to predict a physical occurrence with unlimited precision.
In 'The Meaning of Causality in Physics' (1953), collected in Max Planck and Frank Gaynor (trans.), Scientific Autobiography: and Other Papers (1949, 2007), 124.
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It is not surprising, in view of the polydynamic constitution of the genuinely mathematical mind, that many of the major heros of the science, men like Desargues and Pascal, Descartes and Leibnitz, Newton, Gauss and Bolzano, Helmholtz and Clifford, Riemann and Salmon and Plücker and Poincaré, have attained to high distinction in other fields not only of science but of philosophy and letters too. And when we reflect that the very greatest mathematical achievements have been due, not alone to the peering, microscopic, histologic vision of men like Weierstrass, illuminating the hidden recesses, the minute and intimate structure of logical reality, but to the larger vision also of men like Klein who survey the kingdoms of geometry and analysis for the endless variety of things that flourish there, as the eye of Darwin ranged over the flora and fauna of the world, or as a commercial monarch contemplates its industry, or as a statesman beholds an empire; when we reflect not only that the Calculus of Probability is a creation of mathematics but that the master mathematician is constantly required to exercise judgment—judgment, that is, in matters not admitting of certainty—balancing probabilities not yet reduced nor even reducible perhaps to calculation; when we reflect that he is called upon to exercise a function analogous to that of the comparative anatomist like Cuvier, comparing theories and doctrines of every degree of similarity and dissimilarity of structure; when, finally, we reflect that he seldom deals with a single idea at a tune, but is for the most part engaged in wielding organized hosts of them, as a general wields at once the division of an army or as a great civil administrator directs from his central office diverse and scattered but related groups of interests and operations; then, I say, the current opinion that devotion to mathematics unfits the devotee for practical affairs should be known for false on a priori grounds. And one should be thus prepared to find that as a fact Gaspard Monge, creator of descriptive geometry, author of the classic Applications de l’analyse à la géométrie; Lazare Carnot, author of the celebrated works, Géométrie de position, and Réflections sur la Métaphysique du Calcul infinitesimal; Fourier, immortal creator of the Théorie analytique de la chaleur; Arago, rightful inheritor of Monge’s chair of geometry; Poncelet, creator of pure projective geometry; one should not be surprised, I say, to find that these and other mathematicians in a land sagacious enough to invoke their aid, rendered, alike in peace and in war, eminent public service.
In Lectures on Science, Philosophy and Art (1908), 32-33.
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It is of priceless value to the human race to know that the sun will supply the needs of the earth, as to light and heat, for millions of years; that the stars are not lanterns hung out at night, but are suns like our own; and that numbers of them probably have planets revolving around them, perhaps in many cases with inhabitants adapted to the conditions existing there. In a sentence, the main purpose of the science is to learn the truth about the stellar universe; to increase human knowledge concerning our surroundings, and to widen the limits of intellectual life.
In 'The Nature of the Astronomer’s Work', North American Review (Jun 1908), 187, No. 631, 915.
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It is probable that serum acts on bacteria by changing the relations of molecular attraction between the bacteria and the surrounding fluid.
In Studies in Immunity (1909), 144.
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It is probable that the scheme of physics will be enlarged so as to embrace the behaviour of living organisms under the influence of life and mind. Biology and psychology are not alien sciences; their operations are not solely mechanical, nor can they be formulated by physics as it is today; but they belong to a physical universe, and their mode of action ought to be capable of being formulated in terms of an enlarged physics in the future, in which the ether will take a predominant place. On the other hand it may be thought that those entities cannot be brought to book so easily, and that they will always elude our ken. If so, there will be a dualism in the universe, which posterity will find staggering, but that will not alter the facts.
In Past Years: an Autobiography (1932), 350. Quoted in book review, Waldehar Kaempfert, 'Sir Oliver Lodge Stands by the Old Physics', New York Times (21 Feb 1932), BR5.
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It is remarkable that a science which began with the consideration of games of chance should have become the most important object of human knowledge.
Théorie Analytique des Probabilitiés. Quoted in Isaac Todhunter, History of the Mathematical Theory of Probability from the Time of Pascal to that of Laplace (1865),

It was Darwin’s chief contribution, not only to Biology but to the whole of natural science, to have brought to light a process by which contingencies a priori improbable are given, in the process of time, an increasing probability, until it is their non-occurrence, rather than their occurrence, which becomes highly improbable.
From essay 'Retrospect of the Criticisms of the Theory of Natural Selection', reproduced in Julian Huxley, A.C. Hardy, and E.B. Ford (eds.), Evolution as a Process (1954), 91, as cited in Elizabeth Knowles, What They Didn't Say: A Book of Misquotations (2006), 79-80. “Natural selection is a mechanism for generating an exceedingly high degree of improbability,” which is seen more often, is a summary form of Fisher’s idea (not a verbatim quote) written by Julian Huxley, ibid, 5.
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Lest men suspect your tale untrue,
Keep probability in view.
John Gay
In Fable 18, 'The Painter Who Please Nobody and Everybody', Fables by the Late Mr. Gay: In One Volume Complete (1764), 45.
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Life is a school of probability.
In R.H. Hutton (ed.), 'Thomas Babington Macaulay', Literary Studies: By the Late Walter Bagehot (1879), Vol. 2, 257.
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Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability.
William Bennett Bean (ed.), Sir William Osler: Aphorisms from his Bedside Teachings and Writings, No. 265 (1950), 125.
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Moral certainty is never more than probability.
On Crimes and Punishments (1764), Chapter 14.

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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People are entirely too disbelieving of coincidence. They are far too ready to dismiss it and to build arcane structures of extremely rickety substance in order to avoid it. I, on the other hand, see coincidence everywhere as an inevitable consequence of the laws of probability, according to which having no unusual coincidence is far more unusual than any coincidence could possibly be.
In The Planet That Wasn't (1976), 3.
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Philosophers have said that if the same circumstances don't always produce the same results, predictions are impossible and science will collapse. Here is a circumstance—identical photons are always coming down in the same direction to the piece of glass—that produces different results. We cannot predict whether a given photon will arrive at A or B. All we can predict is that out of 100 photons that come down, an average of 4 will be reflected by the front surface. Does this mean that physics, a science of great exactitude, has been reduced to calculating only the probability of an event, and not predicting exactly what will happen? Yes. That's a retreat, but that's the way it is: Nature permits us to calculate only probabilities. Yet science has not collapsed.
QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (1985), 19.
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Probability is expectation founded upon partial knowledge.
An Investigation of the Laws of Thought (1854), 244. This is part of a longer quote, which begins, “A distinguished writer…”, on the George Boole Quotes page of this website.
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Probability is the most important concept in modern science, especially as nobody has the slightest notion of what it means.
In Lecture (1929), as quoted in E.T. Bell (ed.), Development of Mathematics (1940), 540.
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Quantum mechanics is very imposing. … I, at any rate, am convinced that He [God] is not playing at dice.
In letter (4 Dec 1926) to Max Born. From the original German, “Die Quantenmechanik ist sehr achtung-gebietend. … Jedenfalls bin ich überzeugt, daß der nicht würfelt.” English version as in Albert Einstein, Max Born, Hedwig Born and Irene Born (trans.), The Born-Einstein Letters (1971).
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Religion considers the Universe deterministic and science considers it probabilistic—an important distinction.
Epigraph in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 221.
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Results rarely specify their causes unambiguously. If we have no direct evidence of fossils or human chronicles, if we are forced to infer a process only from its modern results, then we are usually stymied or reduced to speculation about probabilities. For many roads lead to almost any Rome.
…...
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Scientists do not believe in fundamental and absolute certainties. For the scientist, certainty is never an end, but a search; not the ordering of certainty, but its exploration. For the scientist, certainty represents the highest degree of probability.
Ashley Montagu (ed.), Science and Creationism (1984), Introduction, 7-8.
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Secondly, the study of mathematics would show them the necessity there is in reasoning, to separate all the distinct ideas, and to see the habitudes that all those concerned in the present inquiry have to one another, and to lay by those which relate not to the proposition in hand, and wholly to leave them out of the reckoning. This is that which, in other respects besides quantity is absolutely requisite to just reasoning, though in them it is not so easily observed and so carefully practised. In those parts of knowledge where it is thought demonstration has nothing to do, men reason as it were in a lump; and if upon a summary and confused view, or upon a partial consideration, they can raise the appearance of a probability, they usually rest content; especially if it be in a dispute where every little straw is laid hold on, and everything that can but be drawn in any way to give color to the argument is advanced with ostentation. But that mind is not in a posture to find truth that does not distinctly take all the parts asunder, and, omitting what is not at all to the point, draws a conclusion from the result of all the particulars which in any way influence it.
In Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 7.
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So-called extraordinary events always split into two extremes naturalists who have not witnessed them: those who believe blindly and those who do not believe at all. The latter have always in mind the story of the golden goose; if the facts lie slightly beyond the limits of their knowledge, they relegate them immediately to fables. The former have a secret taste for marvels because they seem to expand Nature; they use their imagination with pleasure to find explanations. To remain doubtful is given to naturalists who keep a middle path between the two extremes. They calmly examine facts; they refer to logic for help; they discuss probabilities; they do not scoff at anything, not even errors, because they serve at least the history of the human mind; finally, they report rather than judge; they rarely decide unless they have good evidence.
Quoted in Albert V. Carozzi, Histoire des sciences de la terre entre 1790 et 1815 vue à travers les documents inédités de la Societé de Physique et d'Histoire Naturelle de Genève, trans. Albert V. and Marguerite Carozzi. (1990), 175.
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Sodium thymonucleate fibres give two distinct types of X-ray diagram … [structures A and B]. The X-ray diagram of structure B (see photograph) shows in striking manner the features characteristic of helical structures, first worked out in this laboratory by Stokes (unpublished) and by Crick, Cochran and Vand2. Stokes and Wilkins were the first to propose such structures for nucleic acid as a result of direct studies of nucleic acid fibres, although a helical structure had been previously suggested by Furberg (thesis, London, 1949) on the basis of X-ray studies of nucleosides and nucleotides.
While the X-ray evidence cannot, at present, be taken as direct proof that the structure is helical, other considerations discussed below make the existence of a helical structure highly probable.
From Rosalind Franklin and R. G. Gosling,'Molecular Configuration in Sodium Thymonucleate', Nature (25 Apr 1953), 171, No. 4356, 740.
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Starting from statistical observations, it is possible to arrive at conclusions which not less reliable or useful than those obtained in any other exact science. It is only necessary to apply a clear and precise concept of probability to such observations.
In Probability, Statistics, and Truth (1939), 1. In the 1957 edition, this was rewritten as, “Starting from statistical observations and applying to them a clear and precise concept of probability it is possible to arrive at conclusions which are just as reliable and “truth-full” and quite as practically useful as those obtained in any other exact science.”
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Statistically the probability of any one of us being here is so small that you would think the mere fact of existence would keep us all in a contented dazzlement of surprise. We are alive against the stupendous odds of genetics, infinitely outnumbered by all the alternates who might, except for luck, be in our places.
In 'On Probability and Possibility', The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974), 165.
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Suppose then I want to give myself a little training in the art of reasoning; suppose I want to get out of the region of conjecture and probability, free myself from the difficult task of weighing evidence, and putting instances together to arrive at general propositions, and simply desire to know how to deal with my general propositions when I get them, and how to deduce right inferences from them; it is clear that I shall obtain this sort of discipline best in those departments of thought in which the first principles are unquestionably true. For in all our thinking, if we come to erroneous conclusions, we come to them either by accepting false premises to start with—in which case our reasoning, however good, will not save us from error; or by reasoning badly, in which case the data we start from may be perfectly sound, and yet our conclusions may be false. But in the mathematical or pure sciences,—geometry, arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, the calculus of variations or of curves,— we know at least that there is not, and cannot be, error in our first principles, and we may therefore fasten our whole attention upon the processes. As mere exercises in logic, therefore, these sciences, based as they all are on primary truths relating to space and number, have always been supposed to furnish the most exact discipline. When Plato wrote over the portal of his school. “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here,” he did not mean that questions relating to lines and surfaces would be discussed by his disciples. On the contrary, the topics to which he directed their attention were some of the deepest problems,— social, political, moral,—on which the mind could exercise itself. Plato and his followers tried to think out together conclusions respecting the being, the duty, and the destiny of man, and the relation in which he stood to the gods and to the unseen world. What had geometry to do with these things? Simply this: That a man whose mind has not undergone a rigorous training in systematic thinking, and in the art of drawing legitimate inferences from premises, was unfitted to enter on the discussion of these high topics; and that the sort of logical discipline which he needed was most likely to be obtained from geometry—the only mathematical science which in Plato’s time had been formulated and reduced to a system. And we in this country [England] have long acted on the same principle. Our future lawyers, clergy, and statesmen are expected at the University to learn a good deal about curves, and angles, and numbers and proportions; not because these subjects have the smallest relation to the needs of their lives, but because in the very act of learning them they are likely to acquire that habit of steadfast and accurate thinking, which is indispensable to success in all the pursuits of life.
In Lectures on Teaching (1906), 891-92.
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The art of drawing conclusions from experiments and observations consists in evaluating probabilities and in estimating whether they are sufficiently great or numerous enough to constitute proofs. This kind of calculation is more complicated and more diff
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The excitement that a gambler feels when making a bet is equal to the amount he might win times the probability of winning it.
Anonymous
As quoted, without citation, in Nicholas J. Rose Mathematical Maxims and Minims (1988). Rose attributes the quote to Blaise Pascal, but Webmaster has, so far, found nothing like it by Pascal. Can you help? [Present opinion: This quote does not ring true for Pascal —Webmaster.]
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The incomplete knowledge of a system must be an essential part of every formulation in quantum theory. Quantum theoretical laws must be of a statistical kind. To give an example: we know that the radium atom emits alpha-radiation. Quantum theory can give us an indication of the probability that the alpha-particle will leave the nucleus in unit time, but it cannot predict at what precise point in time the emission will occur, for this is uncertain in principle.
The Physicist's Conception of Nature (1958), 41.
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The knowledge of Natural-History, being Observation of Matters of Fact, is more certain than most others, and in my slender Opinion, less subject to Mistakes than Reasonings, Hypotheses, and Deductions are; ... These are things we are sure of, so far as our Senses are not fallible; and which, in probability, have been ever since the Creation, and will remain to the End of the World, in the same Condition we now find them.
A Voyage to the Islands Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica: With the Natural History of the Herbs and Trees, Four-footed Beasts, Fishes, Birds, Insects, Reptiles, &c. of the Last of those Islands (1707), Vol. 1, 1.
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The laws of probability, so true in general, so fallacious in particular.
Memoirs of my Life (1774) ed. G. A. Bonnard (1966), 188.
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The measure of the probability of an event is the ratio of the number of cases favourable to that event, to the total number of cases favourable or contrary, and all equally possible, or all of which have the same chance.
In 'Règles générales des probabilités', Recherches sur la Probabilités des Jugemens (1837), Chap. 1, 31, as translated in George Boole, An Investigation of the Laws of Thought (1854), 244. From the original French, “La mesure de la probabilité d'un événement, est le rapport du nombre de cas favorables à cet événement, au nombre total de cas favorables ou contraires, et tous également possibles, ou qui ont tous une même chance.”
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The picture of scientific method drafted by modern philosophy is very different from traditional conceptions. Gone is the ideal of a universe whose course follows strict rules, a predetermined cosmos that unwinds itself like an unwinding clock. Gone is the ideal of the scientist who knows the absolute truth. The happenings of nature are like rolling dice rather than like revolving stars; they are controlled by probability laws, not by causality, and the scientist resembles a gambler more than a prophet. He can tell you only his best posits—he never knows beforehand whether they will come true. He is a better gambler, though, than the man at the green table, because his statistical methods are superior. And his goal is staked higher—the goal of foretelling the rolling dice of the cosmos. If he is asked why he follows his methods, with what title he makes his predictions, he cannot answer that he has an irrefutable knowledge of the future; he can only lay his best bets. But he can prove that they are best bets, that making them is the best he can do—and if a man does his best, what else can you ask of him?
The Rise of Scientific Philosophy (1951, 1973), 248-9. Collected in James Louis Jarrett and Sterling M. McMurrin (eds.), Contemporary Philosophy: A Book of Readings (1954), 376.
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The present state of the system of nature is evidently a consequence of what it was in the preceding moment, and if we conceive of an intelligence that at a given instant comprehends all the relations of the entities of this universe, it could state the respective position, motions, and general affects of all these entities at any time in the past or future. Physical astronomy, the branch of knowledge that does the greatest honor to the human mind, gives us an idea, albeit imperfect, of what such an intelligence would be. The simplicity of the law by which the celestial bodies move, and the relations of their masses and distances, permit analysis to follow their motions up to a certain point; and in order to determine the state of the system of these great bodies in past or future centuries, it suffices for the mathematician that their position and their velocity be given by observation for any moment in time. Man owes that advantage to the power of the instrument he employs, and to the small number of relations that it embraces in its calculations. But ignorance of the different causes involved in the production of events, as well as their complexity, taken together with the imperfection of analysis, prevents our reaching the same certainty about the vast majority of phenomena. Thus there are things that are uncertain for us, things more or less probable, and we seek to compensate for the impossibility of knowing them by determining their different degrees of likelihood. So it was that we owe to the weakness of the human mind one of the most delicate and ingenious of mathematical theories, the science of chance or probability.
'Recherches, 1º, sur l'Intégration des Équations Différentielles aux Différences Finies, et sur leur Usage dans la Théorie des Hasards' (1773, published 1776). In Oeuvres complètes de Laplace, 14 Vols. (1843-1912), Vol. 8, 144-5, trans. Charles Coulston Gillispie, Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827: A Life in Exact Science (1997), 26.
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The probability of an event is the reason we have to believe that it has taken place, or that it will take place.
In 'Règles générales des probabilités', Recherches sur la Probabilités des Jugemens (1837), Chap. 1, 30, as translated in George Boole, An Investigation of the Laws of Thought (1854), 244. From the original French, “La probabilité d’un événement est la raison que nous avons de croire qu’il aura ou qu’il a eu lieu.”
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The theory here developed is that mega-evolution normally occurs among small populations that become preadaptive and evolve continuously (without saltation, but at exceptionally rapid rates) to radically different ecological positions. The typical pattern involved is probably this: A large population is fragmented into numerous small isolated lines of descent. Within these, inadaptive differentiation and random fixation of mutations occur. Among many such inadaptive lines one or a few are preadaptive, i.e., some of their characters tend to fit them for available ecological stations quite different from those occupied by their immediate ancestors. Such groups are subjected to strong selection pressure and evolve rapidly in the further direction of adaptation to the new status. The very few lines that successfully achieve this perfected adaptation then become abundant and expand widely, at the same time becoming differentiated and specialized on lower levels within the broad new ecological zone.
Tempo and Mode in Evolution (1944), 123.
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The theory of probabilities is at bottom nothing but common sense reduced to calculus; it enables us to appreciate with exactness that which accurate minds feel with a sort of instinct for which of times they are unable to account.
Introduction to Théorie Analytique des Probabilitiés
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The theory of probabilities is at bottom only common sense reduced to calculation; it makes us appreciate with exactitude what reasonable minds feel by a sort of instinct, often without being able to account for it. … It is remarkable that [this] science, which originated in the consideration of games of chance, should have become the most important object of human knowledge.
From A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities. As given in epigraph, E.T. Bell, Men of Mathematics (2014), 71.
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The theory of probabilities is basically only common sense reduced to a calculus. It makes one estimate accurately what right-minded people feel by a sort of instinct, often without being able to give a reason for it.
Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1814), 5th edition (1825), trans. Andrew I. Dale (1995), 124.
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The theory of probability is the only mathematical tool available to help map the unknown and the uncontrollable. It is fortunate that this tool, while tricky, is extraordinarily powerful and convenient.
The Fractal Geometry of Nature (1977, 1983), 201.
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The true logic of this world is the calculus of probabilities.
In James Clerk Maxwell and Peter Michael Harman (ed.), The Scientific Letters and Papers of James Clerk Maxwell, Vol. 1, 1846-1862- (1990), 197.
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The word “chance” then expresses only our ignorance of the causes of the phenomena that we observe to occur and to succeed one another in no apparent order. Probability is relative in part to this ignorance, and in part to our knowledge.
'Mémoire sur les Approximations des Formules qui sont Fonctions de Très Grands Nombres' (1783, published 1786). In Oeuvres complète de Laplace, 14 Vols. (1843-1912), Vol. 10, 296, trans. Charles Coulston Gillispie, Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827: A Life in Exact Science (1997), 91.
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These duplicates in those parts of the body, without which a man might have very well subsisted, though not so well as with them, are a plain demonstration of an all-wise Contriver, as those more numerous copyings which are found among the vessels of the same body are evident demonstrations that they could not be the work of chance. This argument receives additional strength if we apply it to every animal and insect within our knowledge, as well as to those numberless living creatures that are objects too minute for a human eye: and if we consider how the several species in this whole world of life resemble one another in very many particulars, so far as is convenient for their respective states of existence, it is much more probable that a hundred millions of dice should be casually thrown a hundred millions of times in the same number than that the body of any single animal should be produced by the fortuitous concourse of matter.
In The Spectator (22 Nov 1712), No. 543, as collected in Vol. 4 (1721, 10th ed.), 48.
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Things of all kinds are subject to a universal law which may be called the law of large numbers. It consists in the fact that, if one observes very considerable numbers of events of the same nature, dependent on constant causes and causes which vary irregularly, sometimes in one direction, sometimes in the other, it is to say without their variation being progressive in any definite direction, one shall find, between these numbers, relations which are almost constant.
Poisson’s Law of Large Numbers (16 Nov 1837), in Recherches sur la Probabilités (1837), 7. English version by Webmaster using Google Translate, from the original French, “Les choses de toutes natures sont soumises à une loi universelle qu’on) peut appeler la loi des grands nombres. Elle consiste en ce que, si l’on observe des nombres très considérables d’événements d’une même nature, dépendants de causes constantes et de causes qui varient irrégulièrement, tantôt dans un sens, tantôt daus l’autre, c’est-à-dire sans que leur variation soit progressive dans aucun sens déterminé, on trouvera, entre ces nombres, des rapports a très peu près constants.”
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To throw in a fair game at Hazards only three-spots, when something great is at stake, or some business is the hazard, is a natural occurrence and deserves to be so deemed; and even when they come up the same way for a second time if the throw be repeated. If the third and fourth plays are the same, surely there is occasion for suspicion on the part of a prudent man.
from De Vita Propria Liber
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To us probability is the very guide of life.
In 'Introduction', The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature (1740), Vol. 1, iv.
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We believe in the possibility of a theory which is able to give a complete description of reality, the laws of which establish relations between the things themselves and not merely between their probabilities ... God does not play dice.
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We have seven or eight geological facts, related by Moses on the one part, and on the other, deduced solely from the most exact and best verified geological observations, and yet agreeing perfectly with each other, not only in substance, but in the order of their succession... That two accounts derived from sources totally distinct from and independent on each other should agree not only in the substance but in the order of succession of two events only, is already highly improbable, if these facts be not true, both substantially and as to the order of their succession. Let this improbability, as to the substance of the facts, be represented only by 1/10. Then the improbability of their agreement as to seven events is 1.7/10.7 that is, as one to ten million, and would be much higher if the order also had entered into the computation.
Geological Essays (1799), 52-3.
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We know that the probability of well-established induction is great, but, when we are asked to name its degree we cannot. Common sense tells us that some inductive arguments are stronger than others, and that some are very strong. But how much stronger or how strong we cannot express.
In A Treatise on Probability (1921), Chap. 22, 259.
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We know the laws of trial and error, of large numbers and probabilities. We know that these laws are part of the mathematical and mechanical fabric of the universe, and that they are also at play in biological processes. But, in the name of the experimental method and out of our poor knowledge, are we really entitled to claim that everything happens by chance, to the exclusion of all other possibilities?
From Nobel Prize Lecture (Dec 1974), 'The Coming Age of the Cell'. Collected in Jan Lindsten (ed.) Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1971-1980 (1992).
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We may not be able to get certainty, but we can get probability, and half a loaf is better than no bread.
Christian Reflections (1967), 111
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We must make the following remark: a proof, that after a certain time t1, the spheres must necessarily be mixed uniformly, whatever may be the initial distribution of states, cannot be given. This is in fact a consequence of probability theory, for any non-uniform distribution of states, no matter how improbable it may be, is still not absolutely impossible. Indeed it is clear that any individual uniform distribution, which might arise after a certain time from some particular initial state, is just as improbable as an individual non-uniform distribution; just as in the game of Lotto, any individual set of five numbers is as improbable as the set 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. It is only because there are many more uniform distributions than non-uniform ones that the distribution of states will become uniform in the course of time. One therefore cannot prove that, whatever may be the positions and velocities of the spheres at the beginning, the distributions must become uniform after a long time; rather one can only prove that infinitely many more initial states will lead to a uniform one after a definite length of time than to a non-uniform one. Loschmidt's theorem tells us only about initial states which actually lead to a very non-uniform distribution of states after a certain time t1; but it does not prove that there are not infinitely many more initial conditions that will lead to a uniform distribution after the same time. On the contrary, it follows from the theorem itself that, since there are infinitely many more uniform distributions, the number of states which lead to uniform distributions after a certain time t1, is much greater than the number that leads to non-uniform ones, and the latter are the ones that must be chosen, according to Loschmidt, in order to obtain a non-uniform distribution at t1.
From 'On the Relation of a General Mechanical Theorem to the Second Law of Thermodynamics' (1877), in Stephen G. Brush (ed.), Selected Readings in Physics (1966), Vol. 2, Irreversible Processes, 191-2.
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We … find a number of quotations illustrating the use of the word [probability], most of them taken from philosophical works. I shall only refer to a few examples: “The probable is something which lies midway between truth and error” (Thomasius, 1688); “An assertion, of which the contrary is not completely self-contradictory or impossible, is called probable” (Reimarus). Kant says: “That which, if it were held as truth, would be more than half certain, is called probable.”
In Probability, Statistics, and Truth (1939), 3.
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What the use of P [the significance level] implies, therefore, is that a hypothesis that may be true may be rejected because it has not predicted observable results that have not occurred.
Theory of Probability (1939), 316.
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When an observation is made on any atomic system that has been prepared in a given way and is thus in a given state, the result will not in general be determinate, i.e. if the experiment is repeated several times under identical conditions several different results may be obtained. If the experiment is repeated a large number of times it will be found that each particular result will be obtained a definite fraction of the total number of times, so that one can say there is a definite probability of its being obtained any time that the experiment is performed. This probability the theory enables one to calculate. (1930)
The Principles of Quantum Mechanics 4th ed. (1981), 13-14
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With moth cytochrome C there are 30 differences and 74 identities. With bread yeast and humans, there are about 45 amino acids that are different and about 59 that are identical. Think how close together man and this other organism, bread yeast, are. What is the probability that in 59 positions the same choice out of 20 possibilities would have been made by accident? It is impossibly small. There is, there must be, a developmental explanation of this. The developmental explanation is that bread yeast and man have a common ancestor, perhaps two billion years ago. And so we see that not only are all men brothers, but men and yeast cells, too, are at least close cousins, to say nothing about men and gorillas or rhesus monkeys. It is the duty of scientists to dispel ignorance of such relationships.
'The Social Responsibilities of Scientists and Science', The Science Teacher (1933), 33, 15.
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Without any doubt, the regularity which astronomy shows us in the movements of the comets takes place in all phenomena. The trajectory of a simple molecule of air or vapour is regulated in a manner as certain as that of the planetary orbits; the only difference between them is that which is contributed by our ignorance. Probability is relative in part to this ignorance, and in part to our knowledge.
Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1814), 5th edition (1825), trans. Andrew I. Dale (1995), 3.
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[After science lost] its mystical inspiration … man’s destiny was no longer determined from “above” by a super-human wisdom and will, but from “below” by the sub-human agencies of glands, genes, atoms, or waves of probability. … A puppet of the Gods is a tragic figure, a puppet suspended on his chromosomes is merely grotesque.
In 'Epilogue', The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), 539.
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[My favourite fellow of the Royal Society is the Reverend Thomas Bayes, an obscure 18th-century Kent clergyman and a brilliant mathematician who] devised a complex equation known as the Bayes theorem, which can be used to work out probability distributions. It had no practical application in his lifetime, but today, thanks to computers, is routinely used in the modelling of climate change, astrophysics and stock-market analysis.
Quoted in Max Davidson, 'Bill Bryson: Have faith, science can solve our problems', Daily Telegraph (26 Sep 2010)
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“I think you’re begging the question,” said Haydock, “and I can see looming ahead one of those terrible exercises in probability where six men have white hats and six men have black hats and you have to work it out by mathematics how likely it is that the hats will get mixed up and in what proportion. If you start thinking about things like that, you would go round the bend. Let me assure you of that!”
In The Mirror Crack’d (1962), 190.
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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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