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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index R > Category: Reality

Reality Quotes (261 quotes)

...reality is a system, completely ordered and fully intelligible, with which thought in its advance is more and more identifying itself. We may look at the growth of knowledge … as an attempt by our mind to return to union with things as they are in their ordered wholeness…. and if we take this view, our notion of truth is marked out for us. Truth is the approximation of thought to reality … Its measure is the distance thought has travelled … toward that intelligible system … The degree of truth of a particular proposition is to be judged in the first instance by its coherence with experience as a whole, ultimately by its coherence with that further whole, all comprehensive and fully articulated, in which thought can come to rest.
The Nature of Thought (1939), Vol II, 264. Quoted in Erhard Scheibe and Brigitte Falkenburg (ed), Between Rationalism and Empiricism: Selected Papers in the Philosophy of Physics (2001), 233
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Dilbert: Evolution must be true because it is a logical conclusion of the scientific method.
Dogbert: But science is based on the irrational belief that because we cannot perceive reality all at once, things called “time” and “cause and effect” exist.
Dilbert: That’s what I was taught and that’s what I believe.
Dogbert: Sounds cultish.
Dilbert comic strip (8 Feb 1992).
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Non possunt oculi naturam noscere rerum
The eyes cannot know the nature of things.
In De Rerum Natura (c. 55 B.C.), Book 4, line 385. Translated by Rev. John Selby Watson, On the Nature of Things (1851).
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[Elementary student, laying a cocoon on the teacher's desk:] That is serendipity. The caterpillar thinks it is dying but it is really being born.
Anonymous
As quoted, without citation, by Marcus Bach, 'Serendiptiy in the Business World', in The Rotarian (Oct 1981), 139, No. 4, 40.
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A scientist is a man who changes his beliefs according to reality; a theist is a man who changes reality to match his beliefs.
In Dave Lane, Isn’t Religion Weird? Quotations for Atheists (2008), 10, with no citation. If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster, who has meanwhile only tentatively assumed that the quote comes from Volker Braun the German playwright (but has confirmed it is not from Volker Braun the physicist).
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A scientist lives with all of reality. There is nothing better. To know reality is to accept it and eventually to love it.
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A scientist lives with all reality. There is nothing better. To know reality is to accept it, and eventually to love it.
Nobel banquet speech (10 Dec 1967). In Ragnar Granit (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1967 (1968).
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After all, what is reality anyway? Nothin’ but a collective hunch.
Performed by Lily Tomlin as Trudi the bag lady, in Broadway show, published with the same title, as The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe (1986), 18. Previous line is “I refuse to be intimidated by reality anymore.” Part of a Broadway show by the same name.
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All the modern higher mathematics is based on a calculus of operations, on laws of thought. All mathematics, from the first, was so in reality; but the evolvers of the modern higher calculus have known that it is so. Therefore elementary teachers who, at the present day, persist in thinking about algebra and arithmetic as dealing with laws of number, and about geometry as dealing with laws of surface and solid content, are doing the best that in them lies to put their pupils on the wrong track for reaching in the future any true understanding of the higher algebras. Algebras deal not with laws of number, but with such laws of the human thinking machinery as have been discovered in the course of investigations on numbers. Plane geometry deals with such laws of thought as were discovered by men intent on finding out how to measure surface; and solid geometry with such additional laws of thought as were discovered when men began to extend geometry into three dimensions.
In Lectures on the Logic of Arithmetic (1903), Preface, 18-19.
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Almost every reality you “know” at any given second is a mere ghost held in memory.
In 'Reality is a Shared Hallucination', Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century (2000), 72.
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Although species may be discrete, they have no immutable essence. Variation is the raw material of evolutionary change. It represents the fundamental reality of nature, not an accident about a created norm. Variation is primary; essences are illusory. Species must be defined as ranges of irreducible variation.
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Among natural bodies some have, and some have not, life; and by life we mean the faculties of self-nourishment, self-growth and self-decay. Thus every natural body partaking of life may be regarded as an essential existence; … but then it is an existence only in combination. … And since the organism is such a combination, being possessed of life, it cannot be the Vital Principle. Therefore it follows that the Vital Principle most be an essence, as being the form of a natural body, holding life in potentiality; but essence is a reality (entetechie). The Vital Principle is the original reality of a natural body endowed with potential life; this, however, is to be understood only of a body which may be organized. Thus the parts even of plants are organs, but they are organs that are altogether simple; as the leaf which is the covering of the pericarp, the pericarp of the fruit. If, then, there be any general formula for every kind of Vital Principle, it is—tthe primary reality of an organism.
Aristotle
In George Henry Lewes, Aristotle (1864), 231.
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An informed appraisal of life absolutely require(s) a full understanding of life’s arena–the universe. … By deepening our understanding of the true nature of physical reality, we profoundly reconfigure our sense of ourselves and our experience of the universe.
In The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality (2007), 5.
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And yet I think that the Full House model does teach us to treasure variety for its own sake–for tough reasons of evolutionary theory and nature’s ontology, and not from a lamentable failure of thought that accepts all beliefs on the absurd rationale that disagreement must imply disrespect. Excellence is a range of differences, not a spot. Each location on the range can be occupied by an excellent or an inadequate representative– and we must struggle for excellence at each of these varied locations. In a society driven, of ten unconsciously, to impose a uniform mediocrity upon a former richness of excellence–where McDonald’s drives out the local diner, and the mega-Stop & Shop eliminates the corner Mom and Pop–an understanding and defense of full ranges as natural reality might help to stem the tide and preserve the rich raw material of any evolving system: variation itself.
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Animals, even plants, lie to each other all the time, and we could restrict the research to them, putting off the real truth about ourselves for the several centuries we need to catch our breath. What is it that enables certain flowers to resemble nubile insects, or opossums to play dead, or female fireflies to change the code of their flashes in order to attract, and then eat, males of a different species?
In Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony(1984), 131.
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Are you sure that a floor cannot also be a ceiling?
From article 'On Being a Graphic Artist' in 29 Master Prints (1983), 7, as quoted and cited in Maurits Cornelis Escher and Doris Schattschneider, A Mathematician Views Escher: An Exhibition of Original Works by M.C. Escher (1987).
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Art has a double face, of expression and illusion, just like science has a double face: the reality of error and the phantom of truth.
'The Lie of the Truth'. (1938) translated by Phil Powrie (1989). In Carol A. Dingle, Memorable Quotations (2000), 61.
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As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.
Sidelights on Relativity (1920), 28.
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As physicists have arranged an extensive series of effects under the general term of Heat, so they have named another series Light, and a third they have called Electricity. We find ... that all these principles are capable of being produced through the medium of living bodies, for nearly all animals have the power of evolving heat; many insects, moreover, can voluntarily emit light; and the property of producing electricity is well evinced in the terrible shock of the electric eel, as well as in that of some other creatures. We are indeed in the habit of talking of the Electric fluid, or the Galvanic fluid, but this in reality is nothing but a licence of expression suitable to our finite and material notions.
In the Third Edition of Elements of Electro-Metallurgy: or The Art of Working in Metals by the Galvanic Fluid (1851), 1.
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Bowing to the reality of harried lives, Rudwick recognizes that not everyone will read every word of the meaty second section; he even explicitly gives us permission to skip if we get ‘bogged down in the narrative.’ Readers absolutely must not do such a thing; it should be illegal. The publisher should lock up the last 60 pages, and deny access to anyone who doesn’t pass a multiple-choice exam inserted into the book between parts two and three.
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But science and technology are only one of the avenues toward reality; others are equally needed to comprehend the full significance of our existence. Indeed, these other avenues are necessary for the prevention of thoughtless and inhuman abuses of the results of science.
In The Privilege of Being a Physicist (1989).
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But when you come right down to it, the reason that we did this job is because it was an organic necessity. If you are a scientist you cannot stop such a thing. If you are a scientist you believe that it is good to find out how the world works; that it is good to find out what the realities are; that it is good to turn over to mankind at large the greatest possible power to control the world and to deal with it according to its lights and values.
Regarding the atomic bomb project.
From speech at Los Alamos (17 Oct 1945). Quoted in David C. Cassidy, J. Robert Oppenheimer and the American Century (2009), 214.
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By convention sweet is sweet, by convention bitter is bitter, by convention hot is hot, by convention cold is cold, by convention colour is colour. But in reality there are atoms and the void. That is, the objects of sense are supposed to be real and it is customary to regard them as such, but in truth they are not. Only the atoms and the void are real.
Cited as from Sext. Emp. Math. VII. 135, in Charles Montague Bakewell, Source Book in Ancient Philosophy (1907), 60.
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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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Can a physicist visualize an electron? The electron is materially inconceivable and yet, it is so perfectly known through its effects that we use it to illuminate our cities, guide our airlines through the night skies and take the most accurate measurements. What strange rationale makes some physicists accept the inconceivable electrons as real while refusing to accept the reality of a Designer on the ground that they cannot conceive Him?
In letter to California State board of Education (14 Sep 1972).
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CARTESIAN, adj. Relating to Descartes, a famous philosopher, author of the celebrated dictum, Cogito, ergo sum—whereby he was pleased to suppose he demonstrated the reality of human existence. The dictum might be improved, however, thus: Cogito ergo cogito sum—'I think that I think, therefore I think that I am;' as close an approach to certainty as any philosopher has yet made.
The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (1911), Vol. 7, The Devil's Dictionary,  46-47.
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Chaos is the score upon which reality is written.
Tropic of Cancer (1980), 2.
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Constant, or free, life is the third form of life; it belongs to the most highly organized animals. In it, life is not suspended in any circumstance, it unrolls along a constant course, apparently indifferent to the variations in the cosmic environment, or to the changes in the material conditions that surround the animal. Organs, apparatus, and tissues function in an apparently uniform manner, without their activity undergoing those considerable variations exhibited by animals with an oscillating life. This because in reality the internal environment that envelops the organs, the tissues, and the elements of the tissues does not change; the variations in the atmosphere stop there, so that it is true to say that physical conditions of the environment are constant in the higher animals; it is enveloped in an invariable medium, which acts as an atmosphere of its own in the constantly changing cosmic environment. It is an organism that has placed itself in a hot-house. Thus the perpetual changes in the cosmic environment do not touch it; it is not chained to them, it is free and independent.
Lectures on the Phenomena of Life Common to Animals and Plants (1878), trans. Hebbel E. Hoff, Roger Guillemin and Lucienne Guillemin (1974), 83.
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Democritus sometimes does away with what appears to the senses, and says that none of these appears according to truth but only according to opinion: the truth in real things is that there are atoms and void. “By convention sweet”, he says, “by convention bitter, by convention hot, by convention cold, by convention colour: but in reality atoms and void.”
Against the Professors, 7, 135. In G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven and M. Schofield (eds.), The Presocratic Philosophers: A Critical History with a Selection of Texts (1983), 410.
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Does the harmony the human intelligence thinks it discovers in nature exist outside of this intelligence? No, beyond doubt, a reality completely independent of the mind which conceives it, sees or feels it, is an impossibility.
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Don’t be afraid of the space between your dreams and reality. If you can dream it, you can make it so.
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Dreams are the reality you are afraid to live, reality is the fact that your dreams will probably never come true. You can find the word me in dream, that is because it is up to you to make them come true.
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Einstein’s space is no closer to reality than Van Gogh’s sky. The glory of science is not in a truth more absolute than the truth of Bach or Tolstoy, but in the act of creation itself. The scientist’s discoveries impose his own order on chaos, as the composer or painter imposes his; an order that always refers to limited aspects of reality, and is based on the observer's frame of reference, which differs from period to period as a Rembrandt nude differs from a nude by Manet.
In The Act of Creation (1964), 252.
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Electronic aids, particularly domestic computers, will help the inner migration, the opting out of reality. Reality is no longer going to be the stuff out there, but the stuff inside your head. It's going to be commercial and nasty at the same time, like 'Rite of Spring' in Disney's Fantasia ... our internal devils may destroy and renew us through the technological overload we've invoked.
Interview in Heavy Metal (Apr 1971). Reprinted in Re/Search, No. 8/9 (1984).
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Endowed with two qualities, which seemed incompatible with each other, a volcanic imagination and a pertinacity of intellect which the most tedious numerical calculations could not daunt, Kepler conjectured that the movements of the celestial bodies must be connected together by simple laws, or, to use his own expression, by harmonic laws. These laws he undertook to discover. A thousand fruitless attempts, errors of calculation inseparable from a colossal undertaking, did not prevent him a single instant from advancing resolutely toward the goal of which he imagined he had obtained a glimpse. Twenty-two years were employed by him in this investigation, and still he was not weary of it! What, in reality, are twenty-two years of labor to him who is about to become the legislator of worlds; who shall inscribe his name in ineffaceable characters upon the frontispiece of an immortal code; who shall be able to exclaim in dithyrambic language, and without incurring the reproach of anyone, “The die is cast; I have written my book; it will be read either in the present age or by posterity, it matters not which; it may well await a reader, since God has waited six thousand years for an interpreter of his words.”
In 'Eulogy on Laplace', in Smithsonian Report for the year 1874 (1875), 131-132.
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Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvellous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavour to comprehend a portion, be it never so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature.
In Alan Harris (ed.), The World As I See It (1934), 242.
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Everything is becoming science fiction; From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century
'Fictions of Every Kind'. In Books and Bookmen (Feb 1971).
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For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.
Upon identifying the reason for the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger with his demonstration showing that O-rings grow brittle when cold by immersing a sample in iced water. Concluding remark in Feynman's Appendix to the Rogers Commission Report on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident. In (Jan 1987). In James B. Simpson, Simpson’s Contemporary Quotations (1988).
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For all their wealth of content, for all the sum of history and social institution invested in them, music, mathematics, and chess are resplendently useless (applied mathematics is a higher plumbing, a kind of music for the police band). They are metaphysically trivial, irresponsible. They refuse to relate outward, to take reality for arbiter. This is the source of their witchery.
In 'A Death of Kings', George Steiner at The New Yorker (2009), 209.
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For mathematics, in a wilderness of tragedy and change, is a creature of the mind, born to the cry of humanity in search of an invariant reality, immutable in substance, unalterable with time.
In The American Mathematical Monthly (1949), 56, 19. Excerpted in John Ewing (ed,), A Century of Mathematics: Through the Eyes of the Monthly (1996), 186.
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For [Richard] Feynman, the essence of the scientific imagination was a powerful and almost painful rule. What scientists create must match reality. It must match what is already known. Scientific creativity is imagination in a straitjacket.
In Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1992), 324.
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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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Genuine religion has its root deep down in the heart of humanity and in the reality of things. It is not surprising that by our methods we fail to grasp it: the actions of the Deity make no appeal to any special sense, only a universal appeal; and our methods are, as we know, incompetent to detect complete uniformity. There is a principle of Relativity here, and unless we encounter flaw or jar or change, nothing in us responds; we are deaf and blind therefore to the Immanent Grandeur, unless we have insight enough to recognise in the woven fabric of existence, flowing steadily from the loom in an infinite progress towards perfection, the ever-growing garment of a transcendent God.
Continuity: The Presidential Address to the British Association (1913), 92-93.
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Given any domain of thought in which the fundamental objective is a knowledge that transcends mere induction or mere empiricism, it seems quite inevitable that its processes should be made to conform closely to the pattern of a system free of ambiguous terms, symbols, operations, deductions; a system whose implications and assumptions are unique and consistent; a system whose logic confounds not the necessary with the sufficient where these are distinct; a system whose materials are abstract elements interpretable as reality or unreality in any forms whatsoever provided only that these forms mirror a thought that is pure. To such a system is universally given the name MATHEMATICS.
In 'Mathematics', National Mathematics Magazine (Nov 1937), 12, No. 2, 62.
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Good scholars struggle to understand the world in an integral way (pedants bite off tiny bits and worry them to death). These visions of reality ... demand our respect, for they are an intellectual’s only birthright. They are often entirely wrong and always flawed in serious ways, but they must be understood honorably and not subjected to mayhem by the excision of patches.
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Here arises a puzzle that has disturbed scientists of all periods. How can it be that mathematics, being after all a product of human thought which is independent of experience, is so admirably appropriate to the objects of reality? Is human reason, then, without experience, merely by taking thought, able to fathom the properties of real things?
From 'Geometry and Experience', an expanded form of an Address by Albert Einstein to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin (27 Jan 1921). In Albert Einstein, translated by G. B. Jeffery and W. Perrett, Sidelights on Relativity (1923).
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His spiritual insights were in three major areas: First, he has inspired mankind to see the world anew as the ultimate reality. Second, he perceived and described the physical universe itself as immanently divine. And finally, he challenged us to accept the ultimate demands of modern science which assign humanity no real or ultimate importance in the universe while also aspiring us to lives of spiritual celebration attuned to the awe, beauty and wonder about us.
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I believe myself to possess a most singular combination of qualities exactly fitted to make me pre-eminently a discoverer of the hidden realities of nature… the belief has been forced upon me…
Firstly: Owing to some peculiarity in my nervous system, I have perceptions of some things, which no one else has… and intuitive perception of… things hidden from eyes, ears, & ordinary senses…
Secondly: my sense reasoning faculties;
Thirdly: my concentration faculty, by which I mean the power not only of throwing my whole energy & existence into whatever I choose, but also of bringing to bear on anyone subject or idea, a vast apparatus from all sorts of apparently irrelevant & extraneous sources…
Well, here I have written what most people would call a remarkably mad letter; & yet certainly one of the most logical, sober-minded, cool, pieces of composition, (I believe), that I ever framed.
Lovelace Papers, Bodleian Library, Oxford University, 42, folio 12 (6 Feb 1841). As quoted and cited in Dorothy Stein (ed.), 'This First Child of Mine', Ada: A Life and a Legacy (1985), 86.
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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 came to biochemistry through chemistry; I came to chemistry, partly by the labyrinthine routes that I have related, and partly through the youthful romantic notion that the natural sciences had something to do with nature. What I liked about chemistry was its clarity surrounded by darkness; what attracted me, slowly and hesitatingly, to biology was its darkness surrounded by the brightness of the givenness of nature, the holiness of life. And so I have always oscillated between the brightness of reality and the darkness of the unknowable. When Pascal speaks of God in hiding, Deus absconditus, we hear not only the profound existential thinker, but also the great searcher for the reality of the world. I consider this unquenchable resonance as the greatest gift that can be bestowed on a naturalist.
Heraclitean Fire: Sketches from a Life before Nature (1978), 55.
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I can understand your aversion to the use of the term ‘religion’ to describe an emotional and psychological attitude which shows itself most clearly in Spinoza ... I have not found a better expression than ‘religious’ for the trust in the rational nature of reality that is, at least to a certain extent, accessible to human reason.
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I cannot seriously believe in it [quantum theory] because the theory cannot be reconciled with the idea that physics should represent a reality in time and space, free from spooky actions at a distance [spukhafte Fernwirkungen].
Letter to Max Born (3 Mar 1947). In Born-Einstein Letters (1971), 158.
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I could not possibly be of such a nature as I am, and yet have in my mind the idea of a God, if God did not in reality exist.
In Meditations (1641), Part 3. English as given in John Veitch (trans.), 'Of God: That He Exists', Meditation III, The Method, Meditations, and Selections from the Principles of Descartes (1880), 132. Also seen translated as, “It is not possible that I could have in myself the idea of God, if God did not truly exist.”
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I do not intend to go deeply into the question how far mathematical studies, as the representatives of conscious logical reasoning, should take a more important place in school education. But it is, in reality, one of the questions of the day. In proportion as the range of science extends, its system and organization must be improved, and it must inevitably come about that individual students will find themselves compelled to go through a stricter course of training than grammar is in a position to supply. What strikes me in my own experience with students who pass from our classical schools to scientific and medical studies, is first, a certain laxity in the application of strictly universal laws. The grammatical rules, in which they have been exercised, are for the most part followed by long lists of exceptions; accordingly they are not in the habit of relying implicitly on the certainty of a legitimate deduction from a strictly universal law. Secondly, I find them for the most part too much inclined to trust to authority, even in cases where they might form an independent judgment. In fact, in philological studies, inasmuch as it is seldom possible to take in the whole of the premises at a glance, and inasmuch as the decision of disputed questions often depends on an aesthetic feeling for beauty of expression, or for the genius of the language, attainable only by long training, it must often happen that the student is referred to authorities even by the best teachers. Both faults are traceable to certain indolence and vagueness of thought, the sad effects of which are not confined to subsequent scientific studies. But certainly the best remedy for both is to be found in mathematics, where there is absolute certainty in the reasoning, and no authority is recognized but that of one’s own intelligence.
In 'On the Relation of Natural Science to Science in general', Popular Lectures on Scientific Subjects, translated by E. Atkinson (1900), 25-26.
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I have found no better expression than ‘religious’ for confidence in the rational nature of reality, insofar as it is accessible to human reason. Whenever this feeling is absent, science degenerates into uninspired empiricism.
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I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.
In Possible Worlds and Other Papers (1927), 298.
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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 suppose that I tend to be optimistic about the future of physics. And nothing makes me more optimistic than the discovery of broken symmetries. In the seventh book of the Republic, Plato describes prisoners who are chained in a cave and can see only shadows that things outside cast on the cave wall. When released from the cave at first their eyes hurt, and for a while they think that the shadows they saw in the cave are more real than the objects they now see. But eventually their vision clears, and they can understand how beautiful the real world is. We are in such a cave, imprisoned by the limitations on the sorts of experiments we can do. In particular, we can study matter only at relatively low temperatures, where symmetries are likely to be spontaneously broken, so that nature does not appear very simple or unified. We have not been able to get out of this cave, but by looking long and hard at the shadows on the cave wall, we can at least make out the shapes of symmetries, which though broken, are exact principles governing all phenomena, expressions of the beauty of the world outside.
In Nobel Lecture (8 Dec 1989), 'Conceptual Foundations of the Unified Theory of Weak and Electromagnetic Interactions.' Nobel Lectures: Physics 1971-1980 (1992), 556.
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I think people get it upside down when they say the unambiguous is the reality and the ambiguous is merely uncertainty about what is really unambiguous. Let’s turn it around the other way: the ambiguous is the reality and the unambiguous is merely a special case of it, where we finally manage to pin down some very special aspect.
In William Byers, How Mathematicians Think (2007), 25.
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I think that a particle must have a separate reality independent of the measurements. That is an electron has spin, location and so forth even when it is not being measured. I like to think that the moon is there even if I am not looking at it.
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Iconography becomes even more revealing when processes or concepts, rather than objects, must be depicted–for the constraint of a definite ‘thing’ cedes directly to the imagination. How can we draw ‘evolution’ or ‘social organization,’ not to mention the more mundane ‘digestion’ or ‘self-interest,’ without portraying more of a mental structure than a physical reality? If we wish to trace the history of ideas, iconography becomes a candid camera trained upon the scholar’s mind.
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If there is a lesson in our story it is that the manipulation, according to strictly self-consistent rules, of a set of symbols representing one single aspect of the phenomena may produce correct, verifiable predictions, and yet completely ignore all other aspects whose ensemble constitutes reality.
In 'Epilogue', The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959, 1968), 533.
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If time is treated in modern physics as a dimension on a par with the dimensions of space, why should we a priori exclude the possibility that we are pulled as well as pushed along its axis? The future has, after all, as much or as little reality as the past, and there is nothing logically inconceivable in introducing, as a working hypothesis, an element of finality, supplementary to the element of causality, into our equations. It betrays a great lack of imagination to believe that the concept of “purpose” must necessarily be associated with some anthropomorphic deity.
In 'Epilogue', The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959, 1968), 537.
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If we take quantum theory seriously as a picture of what’s really going on, each measurement does more than disturb: it profoundly reshapes the very fabric of reality.
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If you want to find out anything from the theoretical physicists about the methods they use, I advise you to stick closely to one principle: don't listen to their words, fix your attention on their deeds. To him who is a discoverer in this field the products of his imagination appear so necessary and natural that he regards them, and would like to have them regarded by others, not as creations of thought but as given realities.
From 'On the Method of Theoretical Physics', in Essays in Science (1934, 2004), 12.
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If you wish to learn from the theoretical physicist anything about the methods which he uses, I would give you the following piece of advice: Don’t listen to his words, examine his achievements. For to the discoverer in that field, the constructions of his imagination appear so necessary and so natural that he is apt to treat them not as the creations of his thoughts but as given realities.
In Herbert Spencer Lecture at Oxford (10 Jun 1933), 'On the Methods of Theoretical Physics'. Printed inPhilosophy of Science (Apr 1934), 1, No. 2, 163.
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In all matters of opinion and science ... the difference between men is ... oftener found to lie in generals than in particulars; and to be less in reality than in appearance. An explication of the terms commonly ends the controversy, and the disputants are surprised to find that they had been quarrelling, while at bottom they agreed in their judgement.
Dissertation IV, 'Of the Standard of Taste', Four Dissertations (1757), 204.
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In early times, when the knowledge of nature was small, little attempt was made to divide science into parts, and men of science did not specialize. Aristotle was a master of all science known in his day, and wrote indifferently treatises on physics or animals. As increasing knowledge made it impossible for any one man to grasp all scientific subjects, lines of division were drawn for convenience of study and of teaching. Besides the broad distinction into physical and biological science, minute subdivisions arose, and, at a certain stage of development, much attention was, given to methods of classification, and much emphasis laid on the results, which were thought to have a significance beyond that of the mere convenience of mankind.
But we have reached the stage when the different streams of knowledge, followed by the different sciences, are coalescing, and the artificial barriers raised by calling those sciences by different names are breaking down. Geology uses the methods and data of physics, chemistry and biology; no one can say whether the science of radioactivity is to be classed as chemistry or physics, or whether sociology is properly grouped with biology or economics. Indeed, it is often just where this coalescence of two subjects occurs, when some connecting channel between them is opened suddenly, that the most striking advances in knowledge take place. The accumulated experience of one department of science, and the special methods which have been developed to deal with its problems, become suddenly available in the domain of another department, and many questions insoluble before may find answers in the new light cast upon them. Such considerations show us that science is in reality one, though we may agree to look on it now from one side and now from another as we approach it from the standpoint of physics, physiology or psychology.
In article 'Science', Encyclopedia Britannica (1911), 402.
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In many cases, mathematics is an escape from reality.
In Adventures of a Mathematician (1976), 120. Part of a longer quote that begins: “In many cases, mathematics…” on the Stanislaw Ulam Quotes page of this website.
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In many cases, mathematics is an escape from reality. The mathematician finds his own monastic niche and happiness in pursuits that are disconnected from external affairs. Some practice it as if using a drug. Chess sometimes plays a similar role. In their unhappiness over the events of this world, some immerse themselves in a kind of self-sufficiency in mathematics. (Some have engaged in it for this reason alone.)
In Adventures of a Mathematician (1976), 120.
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In reality the origin of the notion of derivatives is in the vague feeling of the mobility of things, and of the greater or less speed with which phenomena take place; this is well expressed by the terms fluent and fluxion, which were used by Newton and which we may believe were borrowed from the ancient mathematician Heraclitus.
From address to the section of Algebra and Analysis, International Congress of Arts and Sciences, St. Louis (22 Sep 1904), 'On the Development of Mathematical Analysis and its Relation to Certain Other Sciences,' as translated by M.W. Haskell in Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (May 1905), 11, 407.
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In reality, all Arguments from Experience are founded on the Similarity which we discover among natural Objects, and by which we are induc'd to expect effects similar to those which we have found to follow from such Objects. And tho' none but a Fool or Madman will ever pretend to dispute the Authority of Experience, or to reject that great Guide of human Life, it may surely be allow'd a Philosopher to have so much Curiosity at least as to examine the Principle of human Nature, which gives this mighty Authority to Experience, and makes us draw Advantage from that Similarity which Nature has plac'd among different Objects. From Causes which appear similar we expect similar Effects. This is the Sum of our experimental Conclusions.
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748), 63.
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In reality, I have sometimes thought that we do not go on sufficiently slowly in the removal of diseases, and that it would he better if we proceeded with less haste, and if more were often left, to Nature than is the practice now-a-days. It is a great mistake to suppose that Nature always stands in need of the assistance of Art. If that were the case, site would have made less provision for the safety of mankind than the preservation of the species demands; seeing that there is not the least proportion between the host of existing diseases and the powers possessed by man for their removal, even in those ages wherein the healing art was at the highest pitch, and most extensively cultivated.
As quoted by Gavin Milroy in 'On the Writings of Sydenham', The Lancet (14 Nov 1846), 524.
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In reality, nothing but atoms and the void.
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In short, the greatest contribution to real security that science can make is through the extension of the scientific method to the social sciences and a solution of the problem of complete avoidance of war.
In "Science and Security", Science (25 Jun 1948), 107, 665. Written while Director of the U.S. National Bureau of Standards.
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In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable: and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.
The Logic of Scientific Discovery (2002), 316.
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In teaching man, experimental science results in lessening his pride more and more by proving to him every day that primary causes, like the objective reality of things, will be hidden from him forever and that he can only know relations.
…...
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In the field one has to face a chaos of facts, some of which are so small that they seem insignificant; others loom so large that they are hard to encompass with one synthetic glance. But in this crude form they are not scientific facts at all; they are absolutely elusive, and can be fixed only by interpretation, by seeing them sub specie aeternitatis, by grasping what is essential in them and fixing this. Only laws and gerneralizations are scientific facts, and field work consists only and exclusively in the interpretation of the chaotic social reality, in subordinating it to general rules.
Baloma (1954), 238.
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In the sense that [truth] means the reality about a human being it is probably impossible for a biographer to achieve. In the sense that it means a reasonable presentation of all the available facts it is more nearly possible, but even this limited goal is harder to reach than it appears to be. A biographer needs to be both humble and cautious.
Describing the difficulty of historical sources giving conflicting facts. From 'Getting at the Truth', The Saturday Review (19 Sep 1953), 36, No. 38, 11. Excerpted in Meta Riley Emberger and Marian Ross Hall, Scientific Writing (1955), 399.
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In working out physical problems there should be, in the first place, no pretence of rigorous formalism. The physics will guide the physicist along somehow to useful and important results, by the constant union of physical and geometrical or analytical ideas. The practice of eliminating the physics by reducing a problem to a purely mathematical exercise should be avoided as much as possible. The physics should be carried on right through, to give life and reality to the problem, and to obtain the great assistance which the physics gives to the mathematics.
In Electromagnetic Theory (1892), Vol. 2, 5.
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Indeed, the ideal for a well-functioning democratic state is like the ideal for a gentleman’s well-cut suit—it is not noticed. For the common people of Britain, Gestapo and concentration camps have approximately the same degree of reality as the monster of Loch Ness. Atrocity propaganda is helpless against this healthy lack of imagination.
In 'A Challenge to “Knights in Rusty Armor”', The New York Times (14 Feb 1943), Sunday Magazine, 5.
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Insofar as mathematics is about reality, it is not certain, and insofar as it is certain, it is not about reality.
…...
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It is difficult to say what is impossible, for “The dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.”
The opening clause is his own paraphrase of his own introductory remark, followed by quoting directly from his Oration (21 Jun 1904), 'On Taking Things for Granted', at his own graduation from South High School, Worcester, Massachusetts, in 'Material for an Autobiography of R.H. Goddard: written in July 1923 with interpolations made in 1933', The Papers of Robert H. Goddard: Vol. 1: 1898-1924 (1970), 11. The source of the paraphrase is seen in a longer direct quote from his Oration: “In the sciences we have learned that we are too ignorant to pronounce anything impossible,… The dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow”, in the epigraph on page v. The full Oration is on pp 63-66.
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It is impossible to disassociate language from science or science from language, because every natural science always involves three things: the sequence of phenomena on which the science is based; the abstract concepts which call these phenomena to mind; and the words in which the concepts are expressed. To call forth a concept a word is needed; to portray a phenomenon a concept is needed. All three mirror one and the same reality.
In Traite Elementaire de Chimie (1789).
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It is not so bad being ignorant if you are totally ignorant; the hard thing is knowing in some detail the reality of ignorance...
In The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974, 1979), 74.
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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 obvious that man dwells in a splendid universe, a magnificent expanse of earth and sky and heaven, which manifestly is built on a majestic plan, maintains some mighty design, though man himself cannot grasp it. Yet for him it is not a pleasant or satisfying world. In his few moments of respite from labor or from his enemies, he dreams that this very universe might indeed be perfect, its laws operating just as now they seem to do, and yet he and it somehow be in full accord. The very ease with which he can frame this image to himself makes the reality all the more mocking. ... It is only too clear that man is not at home in this universe, and yet he is not good enough to deserve a better.
In The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (1939, 1954), 7.
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It is probable that all heavy matter possesses—latent and bound up with the structure of the atom—a similar quantity of energy to that possessed by radium. If it could be tapped and controlled, what an agent it would be in shaping the world's destiny! The man who puts his hand on the lever by which a parsimonious nature regulates so jealously the output of this store of energy would possess a weapon by which he could destroy the Earth if he chose.
A prescient remark on atomic energy after the discovery of radioactivity, but decades before the harnessing of nuclear fission in an atomic bomb became a reality.
Lecture to the Corps of Royal Engineers, Britain (19040. In Rodney P. Carlisle, Scientific American Inventions and Discoveries (2004), 373.
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It is said to be the manner of hypochondriacs to change often their physician …For a physician who does not admit the reality of the disease cannot be supposed to take much pains to cure it.
First Lines of the Practice of Physic, (annoted by John Rotheram, 1796), Vol. 3, 297-8.
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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 therefore easy to see why the churches have always fought science and persecuted its devotees. On the other hand, I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research. Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer work in theoretical science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue. What a deep conviction of the rationality of the universe and what a yearning to understand, were it but a feeble reflection of the mind revealed in this world, Kepler and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary labor in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics! Those whose acquaintance with scientific research is derived chiefly from its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the mentality of the men who, surrounded by a skeptical world, have shown the way to kindred spirits scattered wide through the world and through the centuries. Only one who has devoted his life to similar ends can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and given them the strength to remain true to their purpose in spite of countless failures. It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man such strength. A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people.
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It is through it [intuition] that the mathematical world remains in touch with the real world, and even if pure mathematics could do without it, we should still have to have recourse to it to fill up the gulf that separates the symbol from reality.
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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 was not just the Church that resisted the heliocentrism of Copernicus. Many prominent figures, in the decades following the 1543 publication of De Revolutionibus, regarded the Copernican model of the universe as a mathematical artifice which, though it yielded astronomical predictions of superior accuracy, could not be considered a true representation of physical reality: 'If Nicolaus Copernicus, the distinguished and incomparable master, in this work had not been deprived of exquisite and faultless instruments, he would have left us this science far more well-established. For he, if anybody, was outstanding and had the most perfect understanding of the geometrical and arithmetical requisites for building up this discipline. Nor was he in any respect inferior to Ptolemy; on the contrary, he surpassed him greatly in certain fields, particularly as far as the device of fitness and compendious harmony in hypotheses is concerned. And his apparently absurd opinion that the Earth revolves does not obstruct this estimate, because a circular motion designed to go on uniformly about another point than the very center of the circle, as actually found in the Ptolemaic hypotheses of all the planets except that of the Sun, offends against the very basic principles of our discipline in a far more absurd and intolerable way than does the attributing to the Earth one motion or another which, being a natural motion, turns out to be imperceptible. There does not at all arise from this assumption so many unsuitable consequences as most people think.'
from Letter to Christopher Rothman, 20 Jan 1587
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It would follow that “significant form” was form behind which we catch a sense of ultimate reality.
In Art (1913), 54.
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It would indeed be a great delusion, if we stated that those sports of Nature [we find] enclosed in rocks are there by chance or by some vague creative power. Ah, that would be superficial indeed! In reality, those shells, which once were alive in water and are now dead and decomposed, were made thus by time not Nature; and what we now find as very hard, figured stone, was once soft mud and which received the impression of the shape of a shell, as I have frequently demonstrated.
La vana speculazione disingannata del senso (1670), trans. Ezio Vaccari, 83-4.
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Language is a guide to 'social reality.' Though language is not ordinarily thought of as essential interest to the students of social science, it powerfully conditions all our thinking about social problems and processes. Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. It is quite an illusion to imagine that one adjusts to reality essentially without the use of language and that language is merely an incidental means of solving specific problems of communication or reflection. The fact of the matter is that the 'real world' is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group. No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached.
'The Status of Linguistics as a Science', Language (1929), 5, 207-14. In David Mandelbaum (ed.), Selected Writings of Edward Sapir in Language, Culture, and Personality (1949), 162.
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Let him look at that dazzling light hung aloft as an eternal lamp to lighten the universe; let him behold the earth, a mere dot compared with the vast circuit which that orb describes, and stand amazed to find that the vast circuit itself is but a very fine point compared with the orbit traced by the stars as they roll their course on high. But if our vision halts there, let imagination pass beyond; it will fail to form a conception long before Nature fails to supply material. The whole visible world is but an imperceptible speck in the ample bosom of Nature. No notion comes near it. Though we may extend our thought beyond imaginable space, yet compared with reality we bring to birth mere atoms. Nature is an infinite sphere whereof the centre is everywhere, the circumference nowhere. In short, imagination is brought to silence at the thought, and that is the most perceptible sign of the all-power of God.
Let man reawake and consider what he is compared with the reality of things; regard himself lost in this remote corner of Nature; and from the tiny cell where he lodges, to wit the Universe, weigh at their true worth earth, kingdoms, towns, himself. What is a man face to face with infinity?
Pensées (1670), Section 1, aphorism 43. In H. F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal’s Pensées (1950), 19.
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Man is naturally metaphysical and arrogant, and is thus capable of believing that the ideal creations of his mind, which express his feelings, are identical with reality. From this it follows that the experimental method is not really natural to him.
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Many people are shrinking from the future and from participation in the movement toward a new, expanded reality. And, like homesick travelers abroad, they are focusing their anxieties on home. The reasons are not far to seek. We are at a turning point in human history... We could turn our attention to the problems that going to the moon certainly will not solve ... But I think this would be fatal to our future... A society that no longer moves forward does not merely stagnate; it begins to die.
…...
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Many who have never had an opportunity of knowing any more about mathematics confound it with arithmetic, and consider it an arid science. In reality, however, it is a science which requires a great amount of imagination.
In a letter to Madame Schabelskoy, quoted in Sónya Kovalévsky: Her Recollections of Childhood, translated by Isabel F. Hapgood (1895), 316.
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Mathematicians boast of their exacting achievements, but in reality they are absorbed in mental acrobatics and contribute nothing to society.
From Complete Works on Japan’s Philosophical Thought (1956). As quoted and cited in Alan L. Mackay, A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1991), 185.
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Mathematics is not only real, but it is the only reality. That is that entire universe is made of matter, obviously. And matter is made of particles. It’s made of electrons and neutrons and protons. So the entire universe is made out of particles. Now what are the particles made out of? They’re not made out of anything. The only thing you can say about the reality of an electron is to cite its mathematical properties. So there’s a sense in which matter has completely dissolved and what is left is just a mathematical structure.
In 'Gardner on Gardner: JPBM Communications Award Presentation', Focus-The Newsletter of the Mathematical Association of America (Dec 1994), 14, No. 6. Also, first sentence as filler, with citation, after Washek F. Pfeffer, 'A Devil's Platform', The American Mathematical Monthly (Dec 2008), 115, No. 10, 947.
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Modern Physics impresses us particularly with the truth of the old doctrine which teaches that there are realities existing apart from our sense-perceptions, and that there are problems and conflicts where these realities are of greater value for us than the richest treasures of the world of experience.
In The Universe in the Light of Modern Physics (1931), 107.
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My God all that reality!
Anonymous
Actor's remark a doctor's profession.
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My visceral perception of brotherhood harmonizes with our best modern biological knowledge ... Many people think (or fear) that equality of human races represents a hope of liberal sentimentality probably squashed by the hard realities of history. They are wrong. This essay can be summarized in a single phrase, a motto if you will: Human equality is a contingent fact of history. Equality is not true by definition; it is neither an ethical principle (though equal treatment may be) nor a statement about norms of social action. It just worked out that way. A hundred different and plausible scenarios for human history would have yielded other results (and moral dilemmas of enormous magnitude). They didn’t happen.
…...
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Nearly anyone in this line of work would take a bullet for the last pregnant dodo. But should we not admire the person who, when faced with an overwhelmingly sad reality beyond and personal blame or control, strives valiantly to rescue what ever can be salvaged, rather than retreating to the nearest corner to weep or assign fault?
…...
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Neither in the subjective nor in the objective world can we find a criterion for the reality of the number concept, because the first contains no such concept, and the second contains nothing that is free from the concept. How then can we arrive at a criterion? Not by evidence, for the dice of evidence are loaded. Not by logic, for logic has no existence independent of mathematics: it is only one phase of this multiplied necessity that we call mathematics.
How then shall mathematical concepts be judged? They shall not be judged. Mathematics is the supreme arbiter. From its decisions there is no appeal. We cannot change the rules of the game, we cannot ascertain whether the game is fair. We can only study the player at his game; not, however, with the detached attitude of a bystander, for we are watching our own minds at play.
In Number: The Language of Science; a Critical Survey Written for the Cultured Non-Mathematician (1937), 244-245.
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No more harmful nonsense exists than the common supposition that deepest insight into great questions about the meaning of life or the structure of reality emerges most readily when a free, undisciplined, and uncluttered (read, rather, ignorant and uneducated) mind soars above mere earthly knowledge and concern.
…...
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Nothing can be more fatal to progress than a too confident reliance upon mathematical symbols; for the student is only too apt to take the easier course, and consider the formula and not the fact as the physical reality.
In William Thomson and Peter Guthrie Tait, Treatise on Natural Philosophy (1867), Vol. 1, viii.
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On foundations we believe in the reality of mathematics, but of course, when philosophers attack us with their paradoxes, we rush to hide behind formalism and say 'mathematics is just a combination of meaningless symbols,'... Finally we are left in peace to go back to our mathematics and do it as we have always done, with the feeling each mathematician has that he is working with something real. The sensation is probably an illusion, but it is very convenient.
'The Work of Nicholas Bourbaki'American Mathematical Monthly (1970), 77, 134. In Carl C. Gaither, Alma E. Cavazos-Gaither, Mathematically Speaking: a Dictionary of Quotations (), 194.
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One can argue that mathematics is a human activity deeply rooted in reality, and permanently returning to reality. From counting on one’s fingers to moon-landing to Google, we are doing mathematics in order to understand, create, and handle things, … Mathematicians are thus more or less responsible actors of human history, like Archimedes helping to defend Syracuse (and to save a local tyrant), Alan Turing cryptanalyzing Marshal Rommel’s intercepted military dispatches to Berlin, or John von Neumann suggesting high altitude detonation as an efficient tactic of bombing.
In 'Mathematical Knowledge: Internal, Social and Cultural Aspects', Mathematics As Metaphor: Selected Essays (2007), 3.
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One of the most insidious and nefarious properties of scientific models is their tendency to take over, and sometimes supplant, reality.
Quoted in J. J. Zuckerman, 'The Coming Renaissance of Descriptive Chemistry', Journal of Chemical Education, 1986, 63, 830.
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One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike—and yet is the most precious thing we have.
Epigraph in Banesh Hoffmann and Helen Dukas, Albert Einstein: Creator and Rebel (1972, 1973), vii.
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Our experience up to date justifies us in feeling sure that in Nature is actualized the ideal of mathematical simplicity. It is my conviction that pure mathematical construction enables us to discover the concepts and the laws connecting them, which gives us the key to understanding nature… In a certain sense, therefore, I hold it true that pure thought can grasp reality, as the ancients dreamed.
In Herbert Spencer Lecture at Oxford (10 Jun 1933), 'On the Methods of Theoretical Physics'. Printed in Discovery (Jul 1933), 14, 227. Also quoted in Stefano Zambelli and Donald A. R. George, Nonlinearity, Complexity and Randomness in Economics (2012).
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Outside our consciousness there lies the cold and alien world of actual things. Between the two stretches the narrow borderland of the senses. No communication between the two worlds is possible excepting across the narrow strip. For a proper understanding of ourselves and of the world, it is of the highest importance that this borderland should be thoroughly explored.
Keynote Address, a tribute to Helmholtz, at the Imperial Palace, Berlin (Aug 1891). Cited in Davis Baird, R.I.G. Hughes and Alfred Nordmann, Heinrich Hertz: Classical Physicist, Modern Philosopher (1998), 157.
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Philosophers of science constantly discuss theories and representation of reality, but say almost nothing about experiment, technology, or the use of knowledge to alter the world. This is odd, because ‘experimental method’ used to be just another name for scientific method.... I hope [to] initiate a Back-to-Bacon movement, in which we attend more seriously to experimental science. Experimentation has a life of its own.
Representing and Intervening, p. 149f (1983). Announcing the author's intention to stress 'intervening' as an essential component of science.
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Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world. In our endeavour to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears its ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility or the meaning of such a comparison. But he certainly believes that, as his knowledge increases, his picture of reality will become simpler and simpler and will explain a wider and wider range of his sensuous impressions. He may also believe in the existence of the ideal limit of knowledge and that it is approached by the human mind. He may call this ideal limit the objective truth.
Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld, The Evolution of Physics (1938), 33.
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Physicians are many in title but very few in reality.
The Genuine Works of Hippocrates, trans. Francis Adams (1886), Vol. 2, 284.
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Preferring a search for objective reality over revelation is another way of satisfying religious hunger. It is an endeavor almost as old as civilization and intertwined with traditional religion, but it follows a very different course—a stoic’s creed, an acquired taste, a guidebook to adventure plotted across rough terrain. It aims to save the spirit, not by surrender but by liberation of the human mind. Its central tenet, as Einstein knew, is the unification of knowledge. When we have unified enough certain knowledge, we will understand who we are and why we are here. If those committed to the quest fail, they will be forgiven. When lost, they will find another way.
In Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998), 5.
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Quantitative work shows clearly that natural selection is a reality, and that, among other things, it selects Mendelian genes, which are known to be distributed at random through wild populations, and to follow the laws of chance in their distribution to offspring. In other words, they are an agency producing variation of the kind which Darwin postulated as the raw material on which selection acts.
'Natural Selection', Nature, 1929, 124, 444.
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Quite distinct from the theoretical question of the manner in which mathematics will rescue itself from the perils to which it is exposed by its own prolific nature is the practical problem of finding means of rendering available for the student the results which have been already accumulated, and making it possible for the learner to obtain some idea of the present state of the various departments of mathematics. … The great mass of mathematical literature will be always contained in Journals and Transactions, but there is no reason why it should not be rendered far more useful and accessible than at present by means of treatises or higher text-books. The whole science suffers from want of avenues of approach, and many beautiful branches of mathematics are regarded as difficult and technical merely because they are not easily accessible. … I feel very strongly that any introduction to a new subject written by a competent person confers a real benefit on the whole science. The number of excellent text-books of an elementary kind that are published in this country makes it all the more to be regretted that we have so few that are intended for the advanced student. As an example of the higher kind of text-book, the want of which is so badly felt in many subjects, I may mention the second part of Prof. Chrystal’s Algebra published last year, which in a small compass gives a great mass of valuable and fundamental knowledge that has hitherto been beyond the reach of an ordinary student, though in reality lying so close at hand. I may add that in any treatise or higher text-book it is always desirable that references to the original memoirs should be given, and, if possible, short historic notices also. I am sure that no subject loses more than mathematics by any attempt to dissociate it from its history.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section A (1890), Nature, 42, 466.
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Reality is a fabrication slapped together by an often bumbling inner team. ...The proclamation that "there can be no such thing as an objective fact" has a great deal of validity.
In 'A Trip Through the Perception Factory', Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century (2000),70.
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Reality is complicated. There is no justification for all of the hasty conclusions.
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Reality is cruel. All of the naivete is going to be removed. Reality is always changing, and it is always unpredictable. All of the balance is going to be destroyed.
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Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.
…...
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Reality is never skin-deep. The true nature of the earth and its full wealth of hidden treasures cannot be argued from the visible rocks, the rocks upon which we live and out of which we make our living. The face of the earth, with its upstanding continents and depressed ocean-deeps, its vast ornament of plateau and mountain-chain, is molded by structure and process in hidden depths.
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Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.
From speech (1978) 'How To Build A Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later', collected in I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon and The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick. Originally given as an answer to a question from a girl college student in Canada who needed a definition of reality for a philosophy class paper.
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Reality is the real business of physics.
…...
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Reality is what kicks back when you kick it. This is just what physicists do with their particle accelerators. We kick reality and feel it kick back. From the intensity and duration of thousands of those kicks over many years, we have formed a coherent theory of matter and forces, called the standard model, that currently agrees with all observations.
In Has Science Found God?: The Latest Results in the Search for Purpose in the Universe (2003), 41.
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Reality may avoid the obligation to be interesting, but ... hypotheses may not.
Lönnrot to Treviranus in 'Death and the Compass', trans. from the Spanish (1956) by Anthony Kerrigan, collected in Ficciones (1962), 130.
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Relativity teaches us the connection between the different descriptions of one and the same reality.
…...
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Religion is, in reality, living. Our religion is not what we profess, or what we say, or what we proclaim; our religion is what we do, what we desire, what we seek, what we dream about, what we fantasize, what we think—all these things.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 21
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Sand in reality is nothing else than very small stones.
An Essay Towards a System of Mineralogy (1770), trans. G. Von Engestrom, xiv.
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Science discovery is an irrational act. It’s an intuition which turns out to be reality at the end of it. I see no difference between a scientist developing a marvellous discovery and an artist making a painting
From 'Asking Nature', collected in Lewis Wolpert and Alison Richards (eds.), Passionate Minds: The Inner World of Scientists (1997), 197.
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Science has to be understood in its broadest sense, as a method for apprehending all observable reality, and not merely as an instrument for acquiring specialized knowledge.
In Alfred Armand Montapert, Words of Wisdom to Live By: An Encyclopedia of Wisdom in Condensed Form (1986), 217, without citation. If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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Science is a game—but a game with reality, a game with sharpened knives … If a man cuts a picture carefully into 1000 pieces, you solve the puzzle when you reassemble the pieces into a picture; in the success or failure, both your intelligences compete. In the presentation of a scientific problem, the other player is the good Lord. He has not only set the problem but also has devised the rules of the game—but they are not completely known, half of them are left for you to discover or to deduce. The experiment is the tempered blade which you wield with success against the spirits of darkness—or which defeats you shamefully. The uncertainty is how many of the rules God himself has permanently ordained, and how many apparently are caused by your own mental inertia, while the solution generally becomes possible only through freedom from its limitations.
Quoted in Walter Moore, Schrödinger: Life and Thought (1989), 348.
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Science is an allegory that asserts that the relations between the parts of reality are similar to the relations between terms of discourse.
Poetry and Mathematics (1929), 96-7.
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Science is not about building a body of known “facts”. It is a method for asking awkward questions and subjecting them to a reality-check, thus avoiding the human tendency to believe whatever makes us feel good.
In Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, The Science of Discworld (2014), 90.
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Science makes people reach selflessly for truth and objectivity; it teaches people to accept reality, with wonder and admiration, not to mention the deep awe and joy that the natural order of things brings to the true scientist.
Lecture, Austrian UNESCO Commision (30 Mar 1953), in Atomenergie und Frieden: Lise Meitner und Otto Hahn (1953), 23-4. Trans. Ruth Sime, Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics (1996), 375.
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Science, ships, policies, cities, factories, are not nothing,
Like a grand procession to music of distant bugles pouring, triumphantly moving, and grander heaving in sight,
They stand for realities—all is as it should be.
In poem, 'As I Walk These Broad Majestic Days', Leaves of Grass (1892), 379.
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Science, then, is the attentive consideration of common experience; it is common knowledge extended and refined. Its validity is of the same order as that of ordinary perception; memory, and understanding. Its test is found, like theirs, in actual intuition, which sometimes consists in perception and sometimes in intent. The flight of science is merely longer from perception to perception, and its deduction more accurate of meaning from meaning and purpose from purpose. It generates in the mind, for each vulgar observation, a whole brood of suggestions, hypotheses, and inferences. The sciences bestow, as is right and fitting, infinite pains upon that experience which in their absence would drift by unchallenged or misunderstood. They take note, infer, and prophesy. They compare prophesy with event, and altogether they supply—so intent are they on reality—every imaginable background and extension for the present dream.
The Life of Reason, or the Phases of Human Progress (1954), 393.
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Scientific reasoning is a kind of dialogue between the possible and the actual, between what might be and what is in fact the case.
Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought (1969), 48.
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Scientists are supposed to live in ivory towers. Their darkrooms and their vibration-proof benches are supposed to isolate their activities from the disturbances of common life. What they tell us is supposed to be for the ages, not for the next election. But the reality may be otherwise.
…...
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Scientists often invent words to fill the holes in their understanding.These words are meant as conveniences until real understanding can be found. … Words such as dimension and field and infinity … are not descriptions of reality, yet we accept them as such because everyone is sure someone else knows what the words mean.
In God’s Debris: A Thought Experiment (2004), 20-21.
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Since in reality there is nothing to which growth is relative save more growth, there is nothing to which education is subordinate save more education.
Democracy and Education: an Introduction to the Philosophy of Education (1916), 60.
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So is not mathematical analysis then not just a vain game of the mind? To the physicist it can only give a convenient language; but isn’t that a mediocre service, which after all we could have done without; and, it is not even to be feared that this artificial language be a veil, interposed between reality and the physicist’s eye? Far from that, without this language most of the intimate analogies of things would forever have remained unknown to us; and we would never have had knowledge of the internal harmony of the world, which is, as we shall see, the only true objective reality.
From La valeur de la science. In Anton Bovier, Statistical Mechanics of Disordered Systems (2006), 3, giving translation "approximately" in the footnote of the opening epigraph in the original French: “L’analyse mathématique, n’est elle donc qu’un vain jeu d’esprit? Elle ne peut pas donner au physicien qu’un langage commode; n’est-ce pa là un médiocre service, dont on aurait pu se passer à la rigueur; et même n’est il pas à craindre que ce langage artificiel ne soit pas un voile interposé entre la réalité at l’oeil du physicien? Loin de là, sans ce langage, la pluspart des anaologies intimes des choses nous seraient demeurées à jamais inconnues; et nous aurions toujours ignoré l’harmonie interne du monde, qui est, nous le verrons, la seule véritable réalité objective.” Another translation, with a longer quote, beginning “Without this language…”, is on the Henri Poincaré Quotes" page of this website.
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Society is not a mere sum of individuals. Rather, the system formed by their association represents a specific reality which has its own characteristics... The group thinks, feels, and acts quite differently from the way in which its members would were they isolated. If, then, we begin with the individual, we shall be able to understand nothing of what takes place in the group.
The Rules of Sociological Method (1895), 8th edition, trans. Sarah A. Solovay and John M. Mueller, ed. George E. G. Catlin (1938,1964 edition), 103-4.
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Sociological method as we practice it rests wholly on the basic principle that social facts must be studied as things, that is, as realities external to the individual. There is no principle for which we have received more criticism; but none is more fundamental. Indubitably for sociology to be possible, it must above all have an object all its own. It must take cognizance of a reality which is not in the domain of other sciences... there can be no sociology unless societies exist, and that societies cannot exist if there are only individuals.
Suicide: A Study in Sociology (1897), trans. J. A. Spaulding and G. Simpson (1952), 37-8.
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Some authors seem to believe that hypotheses are the natural product of observations as is the case for a pear tree which produces pears; therefore only one exists which is ‘the real and the good one’.
In 'Anatomie comparée des hypothèses sur les plissements de couverture (Ie jura plissée)', The Bulletin of the Geological Institutions of the University of Uppsala (1961), Vol. 40, 180-181, trans. Albert V. and Marguerite Carozzi.
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Some of my cousins who had the great advantage of University education used to tease me with arguments to prove that nothing has any existence except what we think of it. … These amusing mental acrobatics are all right to play with. They are perfectly harmless and perfectly useless. ... I always rested on the following argument. … We look up to the sky and see the sun. Our eyes are dazzled and our senses record the fact. So here is this great sun standing apparently on no better foundation than our physical senses. But happily there is a method, apart altogether from our physical senses, of testing the reality of the sun. It is by mathematics. By means of prolonged processes of mathematics, entirely separate from the senses, astronomers are able to calculate when an eclipse will occur. They predict by pure reason that a black spot will pass across the sun on a certain day. You go and look, and your sense of sight immediately tells you that their calculations are vindicated. So here you have the evidence of the senses reinforced by the entirely separate evidence of a vast independent process of mathematical reasoning. We have taken what is called in military map-making “a cross bearing.” When my metaphysical friends tell me that the data on which the astronomers made their calculations, were necessarily obtained originally through the evidence of the senses, I say, “no.” They might, in theory at any rate, be obtained by automatic calculating-machines set in motion by the light falling upon them without admixture of the human senses at any stage. When it is persisted that we should have to be told about the calculations and use our ears for that purpose, I reply that the mathematical process has a reality and virtue in itself, and that onie discovered it constitutes a new and independent factor. I am also at this point accustomed to reaffirm with emphasis my conviction that the sun is real, and also that it is hot— in fact hot as Hell, and that if the metaphysicians doubt it they should go there and see.
In My Early Life (1930).
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Some of my youthful readers are developing wonderful imaginations. This pleases me. Imagination has brought mankind through the Dark Ages to its present state of civilization. Imagination led Columbus to discover America. Imagination led Franklin to discover electricity. Imagination has given us the steam engine, the telephone, the talking-machine and the automobile, for these things had to be dreamed of before they became realities. So I believe that dreams—day dreams, you know, with your eyes wide open and your brain-machinery whizzing—are likely to lead to the betterment of the world. The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to create, to invent, and therefore to foster civilization. A prominent educator tells me that fairy tales are of untold value in developing imagination in the young. I believe it.
Opening paragraph of preface, 'To My Readers', The Lost Princess of Oz (1917), 13.
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Spirituality leaps where science cannot yet follow, because science must always test and measure, and much of reality and human experience is immeasurable.
Starhawk
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 43
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The assumptions of population thinking are diametrically opposed to those of the typologist. The populationist stresses the uniqueness of everything in the organic world. What is true for the human species,–that no two individuals are alike, is equally true for all other species of animals and plants ... All organisms and organic phenomena are composed of unique features and can be described collectively only in statistical terms. Individuals, or any kind of organic entities, form populations of which we can determine the arithmetic mean and the statistics of variation. Averages are merely statistical abstractions, only the individuals of which the populations are composed have reality. The ultimate conclusions of the population thinker and of the typologist are precisely the opposite. For the typologist, the type (eidos) is real and the variation. an illusion, while for the populationist the type (average) is an abstraction and only the variation is real. No two ways of looking at nature could be more different.
Darwin and the Evolutionary Theory in Biology (1959), 2.
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The beginning of a revolution is in reality the end of a belief.
From the original French, “Les revolutions qui commencent sont en réalité des croyances qui finissent.” in Psychologie des Foules (1895), 130. English text in The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1897), Book 2, Chap. 4, 143. [Note: The original French uses plurals, and could be translated: “Revolutions that begin are actually beliefs that end.” —Webmaster]
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The beginning of civilisation is the discovery of some useful arts, by which men acquire property, comforts, or luxuries. The necessity or desire of preserving them leads to laws and social institutions. The discovery of peculiar arts gives superiority to particular nations ... to subjugate other nations, who learn their arts, and ultimately adopt their manners;— so that in reality the origin as well as the progress and improvement of civil society is founded in mechanical and chemical inventions.
Consolations In Travel; or, the Last Days of a Philosopher (1830), 228.
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The capacity to blunder slightly is the real marvel of DNA. Without this special attribute, we would still be anaerobic bacteria and there would be no music.
In The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974, 1979), 28.
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The conception of objective reality … has thus evaporated … into the transparent clarity of mathematics that represents no longer the behavior of particles but rather our knowledge of this behavior.
In 'The Representation of Nature in Contemporary Physics', Daedalus (1958), 87, 95-108. As cited in Karl Popper, Quantum Theory and the Schism in Physics (1992), 85.
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The cult of individual personalities is always, in my view, unjustified. To be sure, nature distributes her gifts variously among her children. But there are plenty of the well-endowed ones too, thank God, and I am firmly convinced that most of them live quiet, unregarded lives. It strikes me as unfair, and even in bad taste, to select a few of them for boundless admiration, attributing superhuman powers of mind and character to them. This has been my fate, and the contrast between the popular estimate of my powers and achievements and the reality is simply grotesque. The consciousness of this extraordinary state of affairs would be unbearable but for one great consoling thought: it is a welcome symptom in an age which is commonly denounced as materialistic, that it makes heroes of men whose ambitions lie wholly in the intellectual and moral sphere. This proves that knowledge and justice are ranked above wealth and power by a large section of the human race. My experience teaches me that this idealistic outlook is particularly prevalent in America, which is usually decried as a particularly materialistic country.
From Mein Weltbild, as translated by Alan Harris (trans.), 'Some Notes on my American Impressions', The World as I See It (1956, 1993), 37-38.
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The dedicated physician is constantly striving for a balance between personal, human values [and] scientific realities and the inevitabilities of God's will.
'The Brotherhood of Healing', address to the National Conference of Christians and Jews (12 Feb 1958). In James Beasley Simpson, Contemporary Quotations (1964), 177.
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The design of a book is the pattern of reality controlled and shaped by the mind of the writer. This is completely understood about poetry or fiction, but it is too seldom realized about books of fact. And yet the impulse which drives a man to poetry will send a man into the tide pools and force him to report what he finds there. Why is an expedition to Tibet undertaken, or a sea bottom dredged? Why do men, sitting at the microscope, examine the calcareous plates of a sea cucumber and give the new species a name, and write about it possessively? It would be good to know the impulse truly, not to be confused by the “services to science” platitudes or the other little mazes into which we entice our minds so that they will not know what we are doing.
In John Steinbeck and Edward Flanders Ricketts, Introduction to Sea of Cortez: a Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research (1941), opening paragraph. John Steinbeck had an interest in marine science before he met Ricketts. This book is an account of their trip in the Gulf of California, once called the Sea of Cortez, and recording the marine life to be found there.
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The difficulties connected with my criterion of demarcation (D) are important, but must not be exaggerated. It is vague, since it is a methodological rule, and since the demarcation between science and nonscience is vague. But it is more than sharp enough to make a distinction between many physical theories on the one hand, and metaphysical theories, such as psychoanalysis, or Marxism (in its present form), on the other. This is, of course, one of my main theses; and nobody who has not understood it can be said to have understood my theory.
The situation with Marxism is, incidentally, very different from that with psychoanalysis. Marxism was once a scientific theory: it predicted that capitalism would lead to increasing misery and, through a more or less mild revolution, to socialism; it predicted that this would happen first in the technically highest developed countries; and it predicted that the technical evolution of the 'means of production' would lead to social, political, and ideological developments, rather than the other way round.
But the (so-called) socialist revolution came first in one of the technically backward countries. And instead of the means of production producing a new ideology, it was Lenin's and Stalin's ideology that Russia must push forward with its industrialization ('Socialism is dictatorship of the proletariat plus electrification') which promoted the new development of the means of production.
Thus one might say that Marxism was once a science, but one which was refuted by some of the facts which happened to clash with its predictions (I have here mentioned just a few of these facts).
However, Marxism is no longer a science; for it broke the methodological rule that we must accept falsification, and it immunized itself against the most blatant refutations of its predictions. Ever since then, it can be described only as nonscience—as a metaphysical dream, if you like, married to a cruel reality.
Psychoanalysis is a very different case. It is an interesting psychological metaphysics (and no doubt there is some truth in it, as there is so often in metaphysical ideas), but it never was a science. There may be lots of people who are Freudian or Adlerian cases: Freud himself was clearly a Freudian case, and Adler an Adlerian case. But what prevents their theories from being scientific in the sense here described is, very simply, that they do not exclude any physically possible human behaviour. Whatever anybody may do is, in principle, explicable in Freudian or Adlerian terms. (Adler's break with Freud was more Adlerian than Freudian, but Freud never looked on it as a refutation of his theory.)
The point is very clear. Neither Freud nor Adler excludes any particular person's acting in any particular way, whatever the outward circumstances. Whether a man sacrificed his life to rescue a drowning, child (a case of sublimation) or whether he murdered the child by drowning him (a case of repression) could not possibly be predicted or excluded by Freud's theory; the theory was compatible with everything that could happen—even without any special immunization treatment.
Thus while Marxism became non-scientific by its adoption of an immunizing strategy, psychoanalysis was immune to start with, and remained so. In contrast, most physical theories are pretty free of immunizing tactics and highly falsifiable to start with. As a rule, they exclude an infinity of conceivable possibilities.
'The Problem of Demarcation' (1974). Collected in David Miller (ed.) Popper Selections (1985), 127-128.
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The engineer is the key figure in the material progress of the world. It is his engineering that makes a reality of the potential value of science by translating scientific knowledge into tools, resources, energy and labor to bring them to the service of man ... To make contribution of this kind the engineer requires the imagination to visualize the needs of society and to appreciate what is possible as well as the technological and broad social age understanding to bring his vision to reality.
In Philip Sporn, Foundations of Engineering: Cornell College of Engineering Lectures, Spring 1963 (1964), 22.
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The exploration of the external world by the methods of physical science leads not to a concrete reality but to a shadow world of symbols, beneath which those methods are unadapted for penetrating.
Swarthmore Lecture (1929) at Friends’ House, London, printed in Science and the Unseen World (1929), 73.
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The external world of physics has … become a world of shadows. In removing our illusions we have removed the substance, for indeed we have seen that substance is one of the greatest of our illusions. Later perhaps we may inquire whether in our zeal to cut out all that is unreal we may not have used the knife too ruthlessly. Perhaps, indeed, reality is a child which cannot survive without its nurse illusion. But if so, that is of little concern to the scientist, who has good and sufficient reasons for pursuing his investigations in the world of shadows and is content to leave to the philosopher the determination of its exact status in regard to reality.
In Introduction to The Nature of the Physical World (1928), xiv.
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The first thing to realize about physics ... is its extraordinary indirectness.... For physics is not about the real world, it is about “abstractions” from the real world, and this is what makes it so scientific.... Theoretical physics runs merrily along with these unreal abstractions, but its conclusions are checked, at every possible point, by experiments.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 60-62.
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The foolish read to escape reality; the wise surrender to it.
In The Well-Spoken Thesaurus (2011), 176.
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The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda. We must daily decide whether the threats we face are real, whether the solutions we are offered will do any good, whether the problems we’re told exist are in fact real problems, or non-problems.
…...
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The history of civilization proves beyond doubt just how sterile the repeated attempts of metaphysics to guess at nature’s laws have been. Instead, there is every reason to believe that when the human intellect ignores reality and concentrates within, it can no longer explain the simplest inner workings of life’s machinery or of the world around us.
From Reglas y Consejos sobre Investigacíon Cientifica: Los tónicos de la voluntad. (1897), as translated by Neely and Larry W. Swanson, in Advice for a Young Investigator (1999), 2.
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The history of the word sankhyā shows the intimate connection which has existed for more than 3000 years in the Indian mind between ‘adequate knowledge’ and ‘number.’ As we interpret it, the fundamental aim of statistics is to give determinate and adequate knowledge of reality with the help of numbers and numerical analysis. The ancient Indian word Sankhyā embodies the same idea, and this is why we have chosen this name for the Indian Journal of Statistics.
Editorial, Vol. 1, Part 1, in the new statistics journal of the Indian Statistical Institute, Sankhayā (1933). Also reprinted in Sankhyā: The Indian Journal of Statistics (Feb 2003), 65, No. 1, xii.
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The idea of atomic energy is illusionary but it has taken so powerful a hold on the minds, that although I have preached against it for twenty-five years, there are still some who believe it to be realizable.
Quoted in 'Tesla, 75, Predicts New Power Source', New York Times (5 Jul 1931), Section 2, 1.
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The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.
Recollection of a statement to William Miller, an editor, as quoted in, 'Old Man’s Advice to Youth: “Never Lose a Holy Curiosity”', Life (2 May 1955), 64.
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The interpretation of messages from the earth’s interior demands all the resources of ordinary physics and of extraordinary mathematics. The geophysicist is of a noble company, all of whom are reading messages from the untouchable reality of things. The inwardness of things—atoms, crystals, mountains, planets, stars, nebulas, universes—is the quarry of these hunters of genius and Promethean boldness.
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The map appears to us more real than the land.
From 'Study of Thomas Hardy', in Edward D. McDonald (ed.), Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D.H. Lawrence (1936). Excerpted in Selected Critical Writings (1998), 20.
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The mathematical take-over of physics has its dangers, as it could tempt us into realms of thought which embody mathematical perfection but might be far removed, or even alien to, physical reality. Even at these dizzying heights we must ponder the same deep questions that troubled both Plato and Immanuel Kant. What is reality? Does it lie in our mind, expressed by mathematical formulae, or is it “out there”.
In Book Review 'Pulling the Strings,' of Lawrence Krauss's Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Lure of Extra Dimensions, from Plato to String Theory and Beyond in Nature (22 Dec 2005), 438, 1081.
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The mathematician is in much more direct contact with reality. … [Whereas] the physicist’s reality, whatever it may be, has few or none of the attributes which common sense ascribes instinctively to reality. A chair may be a collection of whirling electrons.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 128.
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The mathematician requires tact and good taste at every step of his work, and he has to learn to trust to his own instinct to distinguish between what is really worthy of his efforts and what is not; he must take care not to be the slave of his symbols, but always to have before his mind the realities which they merely serve to express. For these and other reasons it seems to me of the highest importance that a mathematician should be trained in no narrow school; a wide course of reading in the first few years of his mathematical study cannot fail to influence for good the character of the whole of his subsequent work.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section A, (1890), Nature, 42, 467.
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The moon, which is a favorite of the poets and portrayed by the Buddhists as representing the esthetic qualities of peace, serenity and beauty, is now being conquered by man’s ever expanding knowledge of science and technology. What was a mere conceptional imagination is today a concrete reality. The American landing on the moon symbolizes the very acme of scientific achievement. It is indeed a phenomenal feat of far-reaching consequences for the world of science.
In 'Reactions to Man’s Landing on the Moon Show Broad Variations in Opinions', The New York Times (21 Jul 1969), 6.
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The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.
…...
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The most important distinction between the two qualities [talent and genius] is this: one, in conception, follows mechanical processes; the other, vital. Talent feebly conceives objects with the senses and understanding; genius, fusing all its powers together in the alembic of an impassioned imagination, clutches every thing in the concrete, conceives objects as living realities, gives body to spiritual abstractions, and spirit to bodily appearances, and like
“A gate of steel
Fronting the sun, receives and renders back
His figure and his heat!”
In 'Genius', Wellman’s Miscellany (Dec 1871), 4, No. 6, 203. The quotation at the end is from Wiliam Shakespeare, Tr. & Cress. iii, 3.
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The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
Written in 1926, and first published in magazine, Weird Tales (Feb 1928), 11, No. 2, first paragraph. In The Call of Cthulhu (2014), 2.
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The mystic and the physicist arrive at the same conclusion; one starting from the inner realm, the other from the outer world. The harmony between their views confirms the ancient Indian wisdom that Brahman, the ultimate reality without, is identical to Atman, the reality within.
In The Tao of Physics (1975), 305.
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The present theory of relativity is based on a division of physical reality into a metric field (gravitation) on the one hand and into an electromagnetic field and matter on the other hand. In reality space will probably be of a uniform character and the present theory will be valid only as a limiting case. For large densities of field and of matter, the field equations and even the field variables which enter into them will have no real significance. One may not therefore assume the validity of the equations for very high density of field and matter, and one may not conclude that the 'beginning of the expansion' must mean a singularity in the mathematical sense. All we have to realise is that the equations may not be continued over such regions.
In O. Nathan and H. Norden (eds.), Einstein on Peace (1960), 640.
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The prevailing trend in modern physics is thus much against any sort of view giving primacy to ... undivided wholeness of flowing movement. Indeed, those aspects of relativity theory and quantum theory which do suggest the need for such a view tend to be de-emphasized and in fact hardly noticed by most physicists, because they are regarded largely as features of the mathematical calculus and not as indications of the real nature of things.
Wholeness and the Implicate Order? (1981), 14.
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The Principle of Uncertainty is a bad name. In science or outside of it we are not uncertain; our knowledge is merely confined, within a certain tolerance. We should call it the Principle of Tolerance. And I propose that name in two senses: First, in the engineering sense, science has progressed, step by step, the most successful enterprise in the ascent of man, because it has understood that the exchange of information between man and nature, and man and man, can only take place with a certain tolerance. But second, I also use the word, passionately, about the real world. All knowledge, all information between human beings, can only be exchanged within a play of tolerance. And that is true whether the exchange is in science, or in literature, or in religion, or in politics, or in any form of thought that aspires to dogma. It’s a major tragedy of my lifetime and yours that scientists were refining, to the most exquisite precision, the Principle of Tolerance, and turning their backs on the fact that all around them, tolerance was crashing to the ground beyond repair. The Principle of Uncertainty or, in my phrase, the Principle of Tolerance, fixed once for all the realization that all knowledge is limited. It is an irony of history that at the very time when this was being worked out there should rise, under Hitler in Germany and other tyrants elsewhere, a counter-conception: a principle of monstrous certainty. When the future looks back on the 1930s it will think of them as a crucial confrontation of culture as I have been expounding it, the ascent of man, against the throwback to the despots’ belief that they have absolute certainty. It is said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That is false: tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods. Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known; we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge of error, and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. In the end, the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ: Think it possible you may be mistaken.” We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people. [Referring to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.]
'Knowledge or Certainty,' episode 11, The Ascent of Man (1972), BBC TV series.
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The principles which constituted the triumph of the preceding stages of the science, may appear to be subverted and ejected by the later discoveries, but in fact they are, (so far as they were true), taken up into the subsequent doctrines and included in them. They continue to be an essential part of the science. The earlier truths are not expelled but absorbed, not contradicted but extended; and the history of each science, which may thus appear like a succession of revolutions, is, in reality, a series of developments.
In History of the Inductive Sciences (1837) Vol. 1, 10.
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The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.
From Address (Jun 1963) to the Irish Parliament, Dublin, as collected in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy (1964), 537.
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The pursuit of mathematical science makes its votary appear singularly indifferent to the ordinary interests and cares of men. Seeking eternal truths, and finding his pleasures in the realities of form and number, he has little interest in the disputes and contentions of the passing hour. His views on social and political questions partake of the grandeur of his favorite contemplations, and, while careful to throw his mite of influence on the side of right and truth, he is content to abide the workings of those general laws by which he doubts not that the fluctuations of human history are as unerringly guided as are the perturbations of the planetary hosts.
In 'Imagination in Mathematics', North American Review, 85, 227.
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The Question is what is The Question?
Is it all a Magic Show?
Is Reality an Illusion?
What is the framework of The Machine?
Darwin’s Puzzle: Natural Selection?
Where does Space-Time come from?
Is there any answer except that it comes from consciousness?
What is Out There?
T’is Ourselves?
Or, is IT all just a Magic Show?
Einstein told me:
“If you would learn, teach!”
Speaking at the American Physical Society, Philadelphia (Apr 2003). As quoted and cited in Jack Sarfatti, 'Wheeler's World: It From Bit?', collected in Frank H. Columbus and Volodymyr Krasnoholovets (eds.), Developments in Quantum Physics (2004), 42.
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The real value of science is in the getting, and those who have tasted the pleasure of discovery alone know what science is. A problem solved is dead. A world without problems to be solved would be devoid of science.
In Matter and Energy (1912), 18.
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The ridge of the Lammer-muir hills... consists of primary micaceous schistus, and extends from St Abb's head westward... The sea-coast affords a transverse section of this alpine tract at its eastern extremity, and exhibits the change from the primary to the secondary strata... Dr HUTTON wished particularly to examine the latter of these, and on this occasion Sir JAMES HALL and I had the pleasure to accompany him. We sailed in a boat from Dunglass ... We made for a high rocky point or head-land, the SICCAR ... On landing at this point, we found that we actually trode [sic] on the primeval rock... It is here a micaceous schistus, in beds nearly vertical, highly indurated, and stretching from S.E. to N. W. The surface of this rock... has thin covering of red horizontal sandstone laid over it, ... Here, therefore, the immediate contact of the two rocks is not only visible, but is curiously dissected and laid open by the action of the waves... On us who saw these phenomena for the first time, the impression will not easily be forgotten. The palpable evidence presented to us, of one of the most extraordinary and important facts in the natural history of the earth, gave a reality and substance to those theoretical speculations, which, however probable had never till now been directly authenticated by the testimony of the senses... What clearer evidence could we have had of the different formation of these rocks, and of the long interval which separated their formation, had we actually seen them emerging from the bosom of the deep? ... The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time; and while we listened with earnestness and admiration to the philosopher who was now unfolding to us the order and series of these wonderful events, we became sensible how much farther reason may sometimes go than imagination can venture to follow.
'Biographical Account of the Late Dr James Hutton, F.R.S. Edin.' (read 1803), Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1805), 5, 71-3.
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The rigid career path of a professor at a modern university is that One Must Build the Big Research Group, recruit doctoral students more vigorously than the head football coach, bombard the federal agencies with grant applications more numerous than the pollen falling from the heavens in spring, and leave the paper writing and the research to the postdocs, research associates, and students who do all the bench work and all the computer programming. A professor is chained to his previous topics by his Big Group, his network of contacts built up laboriously over decades, and the impossibility of large funding except in areas where the grantee has grown the group from a corner of the building to an entire floor. The senior tenure-track faculty at a research university–the “silverbacks” in anthropological jargon–are bound by invisible chains stronger than the strongest steel to a narrow range of what the Prevailing Consensus agrees are Very Important Problems. The aspiring scientist is confronted with the reality that his mentors are all business managers.
In his Foreword to Cornelius Lanczos, Discourse on Fourier Series, ix-x.
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The simple and plain fact is that the scientific method wins its success by ignoring parts of reality as given in experience; it is perfectly right to do this for its own purposes; but it must not be permitted by a kind of bluff to create the impression that what it ignores is non-existent.
In Nature, Man and God: Being the Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of Glasgow in the Academical Years 1932-1933 and 1933-1934 (1934), 51.
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The stone that Dr. Johnson once kicked to demonstrate the reality of matter has become dissipated in a diffuse distribution of mathematical probabilities. The ladder that Descartes, Galileo, Newton, and Leibniz erected in order to scale the heavens rests upon a continually shifting, unstable foundation.
Mathematics in Western Culture (1953), 382.
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The stream of human knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality. The universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter. We are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail it as the creator and governor of this realm.
The Mysterious Universe (1930), 137.
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The supreme reality of our time is…our common vulnerability on this planet.
Address Before Irish Parliament, Dublin (28 Jun 1963). In Arthur Meier Schlesinger, A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (2002), 901.
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The technologists claim that if everything works [in a nuclear fission reactor] according to their blueprints, fission energy will be a safe and very attractive solution to the energy needs of the world. ... The real issue is whether their blueprints will work in the real world and not only in a “technological paradise.”...
Opponents of fission energy point out a number of differences between the real world and the “technological paradise.” ... No acts of God can be permitted.
'Energy and Environment', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (May 1972), 6.
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The unconscious is the true psychical reality; in its innermost nature it is as much unknown to us as the reality of the external world, and it is as incompletely presented by the data of consciousness as is the external world by the communications of our sense organs.
The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), In James Strachey (ed.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (1953), Vol. 5, 613.
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The universe is an asymmetrical entity. I am inclined to believe that life as it is manifested to us must be a function of the asymmetry of the universe or of the consequence of this fact. The universe is asymmetrical; for if one placed the entire set of bodies that compose the solar system, each moving in its own way, before a mirror, the image shown would not be superimposable on the reality.
Rene Vallery-Radot, Vie de Pasteur (1900), 79. Quoted in Patrice Debre, Louis Pasteur, trans. Elborg Forster (1994), 78.
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The use of traveling is to regulate the imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.
…...
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The various particles have to be taken literally as projections of a higher-dimensional reality which cannot be accounted for in terms of any force of interaction between them.
Wholeness and the Implicate Order? (1981), 186.
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The vast possibilities of our great future will become realities only if we make ourselves, in a sense, responsible for that future.
In 'The Conservation of Natural Resources', The Outlook (), 87, 294.
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The vast spread
Of darkness
That speaks of mystery
The darkness that reveals
The beauty that lies beneath
In the form of glittering
Stars, a countless beauty
That seemed to conceal
A million stories
That can make the mankind
Take a new look at life
And the majestic moon
That silently looks at mankind
Wondering how its serenity
Was disturbed by the little steps
Of a man from the beautiful earth
Yet softly smiling back
And let the world sleep
In its magical glow
A glow that soothes
The world’s senses
And forget the pain of reality
…...
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The very elements of what constitutes good nursing are as little understood for the well as for the sick. The same laws of health, or of nursing, for they are in reality the same, obtain among the well as among the sick.
Notes on Nursing: What it is and what it is not (1860), 4.
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The views of space and time which I wish to lay before you have sprung from the soil of experimental physics, and therein lies their strength. They are radical. Henceforth space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality.
'Space And Time', a translation of an address delivered at the 80th Assembly of German Natural Scientists and Physicians, at Cologne, 21 Sep 1908. In H.A. Lorentz, H. Weyl, H. Minkowski, et al., The Principle of Relativity: A Collection of Original Memoirs on the Special and General Theory of Relativity (1952), 74. Also seen translated as, “From henceforth, space by itself, and time by itself, have vanished into the merest shadows and only a kind of blend of the two exists in its own right.”
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The wallpaper with which the men of science have covered the world of reality is falling to tatters.
In The Tropic of Cancer (1934).
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The word atom signifies without parts—not to be divided. You divide it in thought; for, if you were to divide it in reality, it would no longer be an atom.
In A Philosophical Dictionary (1824), Vol. 1, 338.
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The world in which we live is a hopeless case. I myself prefer to abide in abstractions that have nothing to do with reality.
(Jan 1967). As quoted in Michele Emmer and ‎Doris Schattschneider, M.C. Escher’s Legacy: A Centennial Celebration (2007), 71.
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The world is comparable to ice, and the Truth to water, the origin of this ice. The name “ice” is only lent to this coagulation; it is the name of water which is restored to it, according to its essential reality.
Al- Jill
Universal Man. In Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Science and Civilisation in Islam (1968), 341.
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The ‘mad idea’ which will lie at the basis of a future fundamental physical theory will come from a realization that physical meaning has some mathematical form not previously associated with reality. From this point of view the problem of the ‘mad idea’ is the problem of choosing, not of generating, the right idea. One should not understand that too literally. In the 1960s it was said (in a certain connection) that the most important discovery of recent years in physics was the complex numbers. The author [Yuri Manin] has something like that in mind.
Mathematics and Physics (1981), Foreward. Reprinted in Mathematics as Metaphor: Selected Essays of Yuri I. Manin (2007), 90.
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The ‘paradox’ is only a conflict between reality and your feeling of what reality ‘ought to be’.
…...
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The “conflict” between the fundamental realities of Religion and the established facts of Science, is seen to be unreal as soon as Religion and Science each recognises the true borders of its dominion.
…...
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Theories rarely arise as patient inferences forced by accumulated facts. Theories are mental constructs potentiated by complex external prods (including, in idealized cases, a commanding push from empirical reality) . But the prods often in clude dreams, quirks, and errors–just as we may obtain crucial bursts of energy from foodstuffs or pharmaceuticals of no objective or enduring value. Great truth can emerge from small error. Evolution is thrilling, liberating, and correct. And Macrauchenia is a litoptern.
…...
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There exists, if I am not mistaken, an entire world which is the totality of mathematical truths, to which we have access only with our mind, just as a world of physical reality exists, the one like the other independent of ourselves, both of divine creation.
As quoted, without citation, in the original French, “Il existe, si je ne me trompe, tout un monde qui est l'ensemble des vérités mathématiques, dans lequel nous n’avons accès que par l'intelligence, comme existe le monde des réalités physiques; l’un et l’autre indépendants de nous, tous deux de création divine,” in Gaston Darboux, 'La Vie et l’Oeuvre de Charles Hermite', La Revue du Mois (10 Jan 1906), 46. As translated in Armand Borel, 'On the Place of Mathematics in Culture', in Armand Borel: Œvres: Collected Papers (1983), Vol. 4, 428.
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There have, however, always been men of high and disciplined spirituality who have insisted on their direct experience of something greater than themselves. Their conviction of the reality of a spiritual life apart from and transcending the life of the body may not lend itself to scientific proof or disproof; nevertheless the remarkable transformation in personality seen in those who rightfully lay claim to such experience is as objective as tomorrow's sunrise. Millions of lesser men draw strength from the contacts they can make through prayer and meditation with this aspect of the inner life.
at a convention of scientists in 1967 at the University of Notre Dame
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There is a strange disparity between the sciences of inert matter and those of life. Astronomy, mechanics, and physics are based on concepts which can be expressed, tersely and elegantly, in mathematical language. They have built up a universe as harmonious as the monuments of ancient Greece. They weave about it a magnificent texture of calculations and hypotheses. They search for reality beyond the realm of common thought up to unutterable abstractions consisting only of equations of symbols. Such is not the position of biological sciences. Those who investigate the phenomena of life are as if lost in an inextricable jungle, in the midst of a magic forest, whose countless trees unceasingly change their place and their shape. They are crushed under a mass of facts, which they can describe but are incapable of defining in algebraic equations.
Man the Unknown (1935), 1.
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There is no area in our minds reserved for superstition, such as the Greeks had in their mythology; and superstition, under cover of an abstract vocabulary, has revenged itself by invading the entire realm of thought. Our science is like a store filled with the most subtle intellectual devices for solving the most complex problems, and yet we are almost incapable of applying the elementary principles of rational thought. In every sphere, we seem to have lost the very elements of intelligence: the ideas of limit, measure, degree, proportion, relation, comparison, contingency, interdependence, interrelation of means and ends. To keep to the social level, our political universe is peopled exclusively by myths and monsters; all it contains is absolutes and abstract entities. This is illustrated by all the words of our political and social vocabulary: nation, security, capitalism, communism, fascism, order, authority, property, democracy. We never use them in phrases such as: There is democracy to the extent that… or: There is capitalism in so far as… The use of expressions like “to the extent that” is beyond our intellectual capacity. Each of these words seems to represent for us an absolute reality, unaffected by conditions, or an absolute objective, independent of methods of action, or an absolute evil; and at the same time we make all these words mean, successively or simultaneously, anything whatsoever. Our lives are lived, in actual fact, among changing, varying realities, subject to the casual play of external necessities, and modifying themselves according to specific conditions within specific limits; and yet we act and strive and sacrifice ourselves and others by reference to fixed and isolated abstractions which cannot possibly be related either to one another or to any concrete facts. In this so-called age of technicians, the only battles we know how to fight are battles against windmills.
From 'The Power of Words', collected in Siân Miles (ed.), Simone Weil: An Anthology (2000), 222-223.
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There is something irreversible about acquiring knowledge; and the simulation of the search for it differs in a most profound way from the reality.
In Physics in the Contemporary World (1949), 20.
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They hold that the function of universities is to make learning repellent and thus to prevent its becoming dangerously common. And they discharge this beneficent function all the more efficiently because they do it unconsciously and automatically. The professors think they are advancing healthy intellectual assimilation and digestion when they are in reality little better than cancer on the stomach.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 32.
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They think that differential equations are not reality. Hearing some colleagues speak, it’s as though theoretical physics was just playing house with plastic building blocks. This absurd idea has gained currency, and now people seem to feel that theoretical physicists are little more than dreamers locked away ivory towers. They think our games, our little houses, bear no relation to their everyday worries, their interests, their problems, or their welfare. But I’m going to tell you something, and I want you to take it as a ground rule for this course. From now on I will be filling this board with equations. … And when I'm done, I want you to do the following: look at those numbers, all those little numbers and Greek letters on the board, and repeat to yourselves, “This is reality,” repeat it over and over.
Zig Zag, trans. Lisa Dillman (2008), 63.
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Thinking is merely the comparing of ideas, discerning relations of likeness and of difference between ideas, and drawing inferences. It is seizing general truths on the basis of clearly apprehended particulars. It is but generalizing and particularizing. Who will deny that a child can deal profitably with sequences of ideas like: How many marbles are 2 marbles and 3 marbles? 2 pencils and 3 pencils? 2 balls and 3 balls? 2 children and 3 children? 2 inches and 3 inches? 2 feet and 3 feet? 2 and 3? Who has not seen the countenance of some little learner light up at the end of such a series of questions with the exclamation, “Why it’s always that way. Isn’t it?” This is the glow of pleasure that the generalizing step always affords him who takes the step himself. This is the genuine life-giving joy which comes from feeling that one can successfully take this step. The reality of such a discovery is as great, and the lasting effect upon the mind of him that makes it is as sure as was that by which the great Newton hit upon the generalization of the law of gravitation. It is through these thrills of discovery that love to learn and intellectual pleasure are begotten and fostered. Good arithmetic teaching abounds in such opportunities.
In Arithmetic in Public Education (1909), 13. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 68.
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This change in the conception of reality is the most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton.
Refering to James Clerk Maxwell's contributions to physics.
'Maxwell's Influence on the Development of the Conception of Physical Reality', James Clerk Maxwell: A Commemorative Volume 1831-1931 (1931), 71.
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This is the question
Marry
Children—(if it Please God)—Constant companion (& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one—object to be beloved and played with—better than a dog anyhow. Home, & someone to take care of house—Charms of music and female chit-chat.—These things good for one’s health.—but terrible loss of time.—
My God, it is Intolerable to think of spending ones whole life, like a neuter bee, working, working—& nothing after all.—No, no, won’t do. Imagine living all one’s day solitary in smoky dirty London House.—Only picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa with good fire, & books & music perhaps-—Compare this vision with the dingy reality of Grt. Marlbro’ Street.
Not Marry
Freedom to go where one liked—choice of Society and little of it. —Conversation of clever men at clubs—Not forced to visit relatives, & to bend in every trifle. —to have the expense and anxiety of children—perhaps quarreling—Loss of time. —cannot read in the Evenings—fatness & idleness—Anxiety & responsibility—less money for books &c—if many children forced to gain one’s bread. —(but then it is very bad for ones health to work too much)
Perhaps my wife won’t like London; then the sentence is banishment & degradation into indolent, idle fool.
Marry—Marry—Marry Q.E.D.
It being proved necessary to Marry When? Soon or late?
Notes on Marriage, July 1838. In F. Burkhardt and S. Smith (eds.), The Correspondence of Charles Darwin 1837-1843 (1986), Vol. 2, 444.
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This notion that “science” is something that belongs in a separate compartment of its own, apart from everyday life, is one that I should like to challenge. We live in a scientific age; yet we assume that knowledge of science is the prerogative of only a small number of human beings, isolated and priest-like in their laboratories. This is not true. It cannot be true. The materials of science are the materials of life itself. Science is part of the reality of living; it is the what, the how, and the why of everything in our experience. It is impossible to understand man without understanding his environment and the forces that have molded him physically and mentally.
Address upon receiving National Book Award at reception, Hotel Commodore, New York (27 Jan 1952). As cited in Linda Lear, Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature (1997), 218-219.
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This property of human languages—their resistance to algorithmic processing— is perhaps the ultimate reason why only mathematics can furnish an adequate language for physics. It is not that we lack words for expressing all this E = mc² and ∫eiS(Φ)DΦ … stuff … , the point is that we still would not be able to do anything with these great discoveries if we had only words for them. … Miraculously, it turns out that even very high level abstractions can somehow reflect reality: knowledge of the world discovered by physicists can be expressed only in the language of mathematics.
In 'Mathematical Knowledge: Internal, Social, And Cultural Aspects', Mathematics As Metaphor: Selected Essays (2007), 5.
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This speaker reminds me of my childhood in Budapest. There were gypsy magicians who came to town to entertain us children. But as I recollect, there was one important difference: the gypsy only seemed to violate the laws of nature, he never really violated them!
As quoted by William R. Sears in 'Some Recollections of Theodore von Kármán', Address to the Symposium in Memory of Theodore von Kármán, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, National Meeting (13-14 May 1964), Washington, D.C. Printed in Journal of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (Mar 1965), 13>, No. 1, 178. These are likely not verbatim words of Karman, but as recollected by Sears giving an example of von Kármán’s biting anecdotes at public meetings when criticizing a paper he thought really misleading “pseudoscience.”
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Thus with every advance in our scientific knowledge new elements come up, often forcing us to recast our entire picture of physical reality. No doubt, theorists would much prefer to perfect and amend their theories rather than be obliged to scrap them continually. But this obligation is the condition and price of all scientific progress.
New Perspectives in Physics (1962), 31.
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To fly in space is to see the reality of Earth, alone. The experience changed my life and my attitude toward life itself. I am one of the lucky ones.
…...
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To say that mind is a product or function of protoplasm, or of its molecular changes, is to use words to which we can attach no clear conception. You cannot have, in the whole, what does not exist in any of the parts; and those who argue thus should put forth a definite conception of matter, with clearly enunciated properties, and show, that the necessary result of a certain complex arrangement of the elements or atoms of that matter, will be the production of self-consciousness. There is no escape from this dilemma—either all matter is conscious, or consciousness is something distinct from matter, and in the latter case, its presence in material forms is a proof of the existence of conscious beings, outside of, and independent of, what we term matter. The foregoing considerations lead us to the very important conclusion, that matter is essentially force, and nothing but force; that matter, as popularly understood, does not exist, and is, in fact, philosophically inconceivable. When we touch matter, we only really experience sensations of resistance, implying repulsive force; and no other sense can give us such apparently solid proofs of the reality of matter, as touch does. This conclusion, if kept constantly present in the mind, will be found to have a most important bearing on almost every high scientific and philosophical problem, and especially on such as relate to our own conscious existence.
In 'The Limits of Natural Selection as Applied to Man', last chapter of Contributions to the Theory of Natural Selection (1870), 365-366.
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To the scientist, nature is always and merely a 'phenomenon,' not in the sense of being defective in reality, but in the sense of being a spectacle presented to his intelligent observation; whereas the events of history are never mere phenomena, never mere spectacles for contemplation, but things which the historian looks, not at, but through, to discern the thought within them.
The Idea of History (1946), 214.
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To us … the only acceptable point of view appears to be the one that recognizes both sides of reality—the quantitative and the qualitative, the physical and the psychical—as compatible with each other, and can embrace them simultaneously … It would be most satisfactory of all if physis and psyche (i.e., matter and mind) could be seen as complementary aspects of the same reality.
From Lecture at the Psychological Club of Zurich (1948), 'The Influence of Archetypal Ideas on the Scientific Theories of Kepler', collected in Writings on Physics and Philosophy (1994), 260, as translated by Robert Schlapp.
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Today there is a wide measure of agreement, which on the physical side of science approaches almost to unanimity, that the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears as an accidental intruder into the realm of matter; we are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail it as a creator and governor of the realm of matter. …
In The Mysterious Universe (1930, 1932), 181.
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