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Who said: “God does not care about our mathematical difficulties. He integrates empirically.”
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Representation Quotes (53 quotes)

A rill in a barnyard and the Grand Canyon represent, in the main, stages of valley erosion that began some millions of years apart.
Uniformitarianism. An Inquiry into Principle, Theory, and Method in Geohistory and Biohistory', M. K. Hecht and W. C. Steere (eds.), Essays in Evolution and Genetics in Honor of Theodosius Dobzhansky (1970), 83.
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A scientific observation is always a committed observation. It confirms or denies one’s preconceptions, one’s first ideas, one’s plan of observation. It shows by demonstration. It structures the phenomenon. It transcends what is close at hand. It reconstructs the real after having reconstructed its representation.
In The New Scientific Spirit (1934).
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Absorbed in the special investigation, I paid no heed to the edifice which was meanwhile unconsciously building itself up. Having however completed the comparison of the fossil species in Paris, I wanted, for the sake of an easy revision of the same, to make a list according to their succession in geological formations, with a view of determining the characteristics more exactly and bringing them by their enumeration into bolder relief. What was my joy and surprise to find that the simplest enumeration of the fossil fishes according to their geological succession was also a complete statement of the natural relations of the families among themselves; that one might therefore read the genetic development of the whole class in the history of creation, the representation of the genera and species in the several families being therein determined; in one word, that the genetic succession of the fishes corresponds perfectly with their zoological classification, and with just that classification proposed by me.
Quoted in Elizabeth Cary Agassiz (ed.), Louis Agassiz: His Life and Correspondence (1885), Vol. I, 203-4.
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According to the older view, for every single effect of a serum, there was a separate substance, or at least a particular chemical group... A normal serum contained as many different haemagglutinins as it agglutinated different cells. The situation was undoubtedly made much simpler if, to use the Ehrlich terminology... the separate haptophore groups can combine with an extremely large number of receptors in stepwise differing quantities as a stain does with different animal tissues, though not always with the same intensity. A normal serum would therefore visibly affect such a large number of different blood cells... not because it contained countless special substances, but because of the colloids of the serum, and therefore of the agglutinins by reason of their chemical constitution and the electrochemical properties resulting from it. That this manner of representation is a considerable simplification is clear; it also opens the way to direct experimental testing by the methods of structural chemistry.
'Die Theorien der Antikorperbildung ... ', Wiener klinische Wöchenschrift (1909), 22, 1623-1631. Trans. Pauline M. H. Mazumdar.
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Although we know nothing of what an atom is, yet we cannot resist forming some idea of a small particle, which represents it to the mind ... there is an immensity of facts which justify us in believing that the atoms of matter are in some way endowed or associated with electrical powers, to which they owe their most striking qualities, and amongst them their mutual chemical affinity.
[Summarizing his investigations in electrolysis.]
Experimental Researches in Electricity (1839), section 852. Cited in Laurie M. Brown, Abraham Pais, Brian Pippard, Twentieth Century Physics (1995), Vol. 1, 51.
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But it is necessary to insist more strongly than usual that what I am putting before you is a model—the Bohr model atom—because later I shall take you to a profounder level of representation in which the electron instead of being confined to a particular locality is distributed in a sort of probability haze all over the atom.
Messenger Lectures (1934), New Pathways in Science (1935), 34.
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Characteristically skeptical of the idea that living things would faithfully follow mathematical formulas, [Robert Harper] seized upon factors in corn which seemed to blend in the hybrid—rather than be represented by plus or minus signs, and put several seasons into throwing doubt upon the concept of immutable hypothetical units of inheritance concocted to account for selected results.
In 'Robert Almer Harper', National Academy Biographical Memoirs (1948), 25, 233-234.
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Charles Babbage proposed to make an automaton chess-player which should register mechanically the number of games lost and gained in consequence of every sort of move. Thus, the longer the automaton went on playing game, the more experienced it would become by the accumulation of experimental results. Such a machine precisely represents the acquirement of experience by our nervous organization.
In ‘Experimental Legislation’, Popular Science (Apr 1880), 16, 754-5.
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Considerable obstacles generally present themselves to the beginner, in studying the elements of Solid Geometry, from the practice which has hitherto uniformly prevailed in this country, of never submitting to the eye of the student, the figures on whose properties he is reasoning, but of drawing perspective representations of them upon a plane. ...I hope that I shall never be obliged to have recourse to a perspective drawing of any figure whose parts are not in the same plane.
Quoted in Adrian Rice, 'What Makes a Great Mathematics Teacher?' The American Mathematical Monthly, (June-July 1999), 540.
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During its development the animal passes through all stages of the animal kingdom. The foetus is a representation of all animal classes in time.
In Lorenz Oken, trans. by Alfred Tulk, Elements of Physiophilosophy (1847), 491.
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Every theoretical physicist who is any good knows six or seven different theoretical representations for exactly the same physics. He knows that they are all equivalent, and that nobody is ever going to be able to decide which one is right at that level, but he keeps them in his head, hoping that they will give him different ideas for guessing.
In The Character of Physical Law (1965, 2001), 168.
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For a long time it has been known that the first systems of representations with which men have pictured to themselves the world and themselves were of religious origin. There is no religion that is not a cosmology at the same time that it is a speculation upon divine things. If philosophy and the sciences were born of religion, it is because religion began by taking the place of the sciences and philosophy.
The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912), trans. J. W. Swain (2nd edition 1976), 9.
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Formal symbolic representation of qualitative entities is doomed to its rightful place of minor significance in a world where flowers and beautiful women abound.
…...
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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 therefore took this opportunity and also began to consider the possibility that the Earth moved. Although it seemed an absurd opinion, nevertheless, because I knew that others before me had been granted the liberty of imagining whatever circles they wished to represent the phenomena of the stars, I thought that I likewise would readily be allowed to test whether, by assuming some motion of the Earth's, more dependable representations than theirs could be found for the revolutions of the heavenly spheres.
'To His Holiness Pope Paul III', in Copernicus: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (1543), trans. A. M. Duncan (1976), 26.
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i2 = j2 = k2 = ijk = - 1
[This representation was devised on 16th Oct 1843, and which he carved into a stone of Brougham Bridge, over the Royal Canal, Dublin. It has since worn away.]
As written on a page in his note-book, shown in William Hamilton, Mathematical Papers (1967), Vol. 3, frontispiece.
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If the Easter pilgrims in Piazza San Pietro were to represent the carriers in a metal, then an insulator would resemble the Antarctic with one solitary traveller. In the abundance of carriers there is an enormous gap between conductors and insulators.
Speech, presenting the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics to William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Houser Brattain. In Nobel Lectures: Physics 1942-1962 (1964), 315-6.
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If the world may be thought of as a certain definite quantity of force and as a certain definite number of centers of force—and every other representation remains indefinite and therefore useless—it follows that, in the great dice game of existence, it must pass through calculable number of combinations. In infinite time, every possible combination would at some time or another be realized; more: it would be realized an infinite number of times. And since between every combination and its next recurrence all other possible combinations would have to take place, and each of these combination conditions of the entire sequence of combinations in the same series, a circular movement of absolutely identical series is thus demonstrated: the world as a circular movement that has already repeated itself infinitely often and plays its game in infinitum. This conception is not simply a mechanistic conception; for if it were that, it would not condition an infinite recurrence of identical cases, but a final state. Because the world has not reached this, mechanistic theory must be considered an imperfect and merely provisional hypothesis.
The Will to Power (Notes written 1883-1888), book 4, no. 1066. Trans. W. Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale and ed. W. Kaufmann (1968), 549.
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In fact, whenever energy is transmitted from one body to another in time, there must be a medium or substance in which the energy exists after it leaves one body and before it reaches the other ... and if we admit this medium as an hypothesis, I think it ought to occupy a prominent place in our investigations, and that we ought to endeavour to construct a mental representation of all the details of its action, and this has been my constant aim in this treatise.
A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism (1873), Vol. 2, 438.
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In primitive art you will find no accurate representation: you will find only significant form. Yet no other art moves us so profoundly.
In Art (1913), 22.
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In the year 1692, James Bernoulli, discussing the logarithmic spiral [or equiangular spiral, ρ = αθ] … shows that it reproduces itself in its evolute, its involute, and its caustics of both reflection and refraction, and then adds: “But since this marvellous spiral, by such a singular and wonderful peculiarity, pleases me so much that I can scarce be satisfied with thinking about it, I have thought that it might not be inelegantly used for a symbolic representation of various matters. For since it always produces a spiral similar to itself, indeed precisely the same spiral, however it may be involved or evolved, or reflected or refracted, it may be taken as an emblem of a progeny always in all things like the parent, simillima filia matri. Or, if it is not forbidden to compare a theorem of eternal truth to the mysteries of our faith, it may be taken as an emblem of the eternal generation of the Son, who as an image of the Father, emanating from him, as light from light, remains ὁμοούσιος with him, howsoever overshadowed. Or, if you prefer, since our spira mirabilis remains, amid all changes, most persistently itself, and exactly the same as ever, it may be used as a symbol, either of fortitude and constancy in adversity, or, of the human body, which after all its changes, even after death, will be restored to its exact and perfect self, so that, indeed, if the fashion of Archimedes were allowed in these days, I should gladly have my tombstone bear this spiral, with the motto, ‘Though changed, I arise again exactly the same, Eadem numero mutata resurgo.’”
In 'The Uses of Mathesis', Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 32, 516-516. [The Latin phrase “simillima filia matri” roughly translates as “the daughter resembles the mother”. “Spira mirabilis” is Latin for “marvellous spiral”. The Greek word (?µ???s???) translates as “consubstantial”, meaning of the same substance or essence (used especially of the three persons of the Trinity in Christian theology). —Webmaster]
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It has been asserted … that the power of observation is not developed by mathematical studies; while the truth is, that; from the most elementary mathematical notion that arises in the mind of a child to the farthest verge to which mathematical investigation has been pushed and applied, this power is in constant exercise. By observation, as here used, can only be meant the fixing of the attention upon objects (physical or mental) so as to note distinctive peculiarities—to recognize resemblances, differences, and other relations. Now the first mental act of the child recognizing the distinction between one and more than one, between one and two, two and three, etc., is exactly this. So, again, the first geometrical notions are as pure an exercise of this power as can be given. To know a straight line, to distinguish it from a curve; to recognize a triangle and distinguish the several forms—what are these, and all perception of form, but a series of observations? Nor is it alone in securing these fundamental conceptions of number and form that observation plays so important a part. The very genius of the common geometry as a method of reasoning—a system of investigation—is, that it is but a series of observations. The figure being before the eye in actual representation, or before the mind in conception, is so closely scrutinized, that all its distinctive features are perceived; auxiliary lines are drawn (the imagination leading in this), and a new series of inspections is made; and thus, by means of direct, simple observations, the investigation proceeds. So characteristic of common geometry is this method of investigation, that Comte, perhaps the ablest of all writers upon the philosophy of mathematics, is disposed to class geometry, as to its method, with the natural sciences, being based upon observation. Moreover, when we consider applied mathematics, we need only to notice that the exercise of this faculty is so essential, that the basis of all such reasoning, the very material with which we build, have received the name observations. Thus we might proceed to consider the whole range of the human faculties, and find for the most of them ample scope for exercise in mathematical studies. Certainly, the memory will not be found to be neglected. The very first steps in number—counting, the multiplication table, etc., make heavy demands on this power; while the higher branches require the memorizing of formulas which are simply appalling to the uninitiated. So the imagination, the creative faculty of the mind, has constant exercise in all original mathematical investigations, from the solution of the simplest problems to the discovery of the most recondite principle; for it is not by sure, consecutive steps, as many suppose, that we advance from the known to the unknown. The imagination, not the logical faculty, leads in this advance. In fact, practical observation is often in advance of logical exposition. Thus, in the discovery of truth, the imagination habitually presents hypotheses, and observation supplies facts, which it may require ages for the tardy reason to connect logically with the known. Of this truth, mathematics, as well as all other sciences, affords abundant illustrations. So remarkably true is this, that today it is seriously questioned by the majority of thinkers, whether the sublimest branch of mathematics,—the infinitesimal calculus—has anything more than an empirical foundation, mathematicians themselves not being agreed as to its logical basis. That the imagination, and not the logical faculty, leads in all original investigation, no one who has ever succeeded in producing an original demonstration of one of the simpler propositions of geometry, can have any doubt. Nor are induction, analogy, the scrutinization of premises or the search for them, or the balancing of probabilities, spheres of mental operations foreign to mathematics. No one, indeed, can claim preeminence for mathematical studies in all these departments of intellectual culture, but it may, perhaps, be claimed that scarcely any department of science affords discipline to so great a number of faculties, and that none presents so complete a gradation in the exercise of these faculties, from the first principles of the science to the farthest extent of its applications, as mathematics.
In 'Mathematics', in Henry Kiddle and Alexander J. Schem, The Cyclopedia of Education, (1877.) As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 27-29.
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It 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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Kepler’s principal goal was to explain the relationship between the existence of five planets (and their motions) and the five regular solids. It is customary to sneer at Kepler for this. … It is instructive to compare this with the current attempts to “explain” the zoology of elementary particles in terms of irreducible representations of Lie groups.
In Celestial Mechanics (1969), Vol. 1, 95.
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Man is the summit, the crown of nature's development, and must comprehend everything that has preceded him, even as the fruit includes within itself all the earlier developed parts of the plant. In a word, Man must represent the whole world in miniature.
In Lorenz Oken, trans. by Alfred Tulk, Elements of Physiophilosophy (1847), 2.
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Mathematical economics is old enough to be respectable, but not all economists respect it. It has powerful supporters and impressive testimonials, yet many capable economists deny that mathematics, except as a shorthand or expository device, can be applied to economic reasoning. There have even been rumors that mathematics is used in economics (and in other social sciences) either for the deliberate purpose of mystification or to confer dignity upon commonplaces as French was once used in diplomatic communications. …. To be sure, mathematics can be extended to any branch of knowledge, including economics, provided the concepts are so clearly defined as to permit accurate symbolic representation. That is only another way of saying that in some branches of discourse it is desirable to know what you are talking about.
In J.R. Newman (ed.), Commentary on Cournot, Jevons and the Mathematics of Money', The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 2, 1200.
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Mathematics is often considered a difficult and mysterious science, because of the numerous symbols which it employs. Of course, nothing is more incomprehensible than a symbolism which we do not understand. … But this is not because they are difficult in themselves. On the contrary they have invariably been introduced to make things easy. … [T]he symbolism is invariably an immense simplification. It … represents an analysis of the ideas of the subject and an almost pictorial representation of their relations to each other.
In Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 59-60.
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Myths and science fulfill a similar function: they both provide human beings with a representation of the world and of the forces that are supposed to govern it. They both fix the limits of what is considered as possible.
The Possible and the Actual (1982), 9.
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Nature seems to take advantage of the simple mathematical representations of the symmetry laws. When one pauses to consider the elegance and the beautiful perfection of the mathematical reasoning involved and contrast it with the complex and far-reaching physical consequences, a deep sense of respect for the power of the symmetry laws never fails to develop.
Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1957). In Nobel Lectures: Physics, 1981-1990) (1998), 394-395.
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Nowadays group theoretical methods—especially those involving characters and representations, pervade all branches of quantum mechanics.
Group Theory and its Significance', Proceedings, American Philosophical Society (1973), 117, No. 5, 380.
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On the basis of the results recorded in this review, it can be claimed that the average sand grain has taken many hundreds of millions of years to lose 10 per cent. of its weight by abrasion and become subangular. It is a platitude to point to the slowness of geological processes. But much depends on the way things are put. For it can also be said that a sand grain travelling on the bottom of a river loses 10 million molecules each time it rolls over on its side and that representation impresses us with the high rate of this loss. The properties of quartz have led to the concentration of its grains on the continents, where they could now form a layer averaging several hundred metres thick. But to my mind the most astounding numerical estimate that follows from the present evaluations, is that during each and every second of the incredibly long geological past the number of quartz grains on earth has increased by 1,000 million.
'Sand-its Origin, Transportation, Abrasion and Accumulation', The Geological Society of South Africa (1959), Annexure to Volume 62, 31.
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Our knowledge springs from two fundamental sources of the mind; the first is the capacity of receiving representations (receptivity for impressions), the second is the power of knowing an object through these representations (spontaneity [in the production] of concepts).
Critique of Pure Reason (1781), trans. Norman Kemp Smith (1929), 92.
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Our methods of communication with our fellow men take many forms. We share with other animals the ability to transmit information by such diverse means as the posture of our bodies, by the movements of our eyes, head, arms, and hands, and by our utterances of non-specific sounds. But we go far beyond any other species on earth in that we have evolved sophisticated forms of pictorial representation, elaborate spoken and written languages, ingenious methods of recording music and language on discs, on magnetic tape and in a variety of other kinds of code.
As quoted in epigraph before title page in John Wolfenden, Hermann Bondi, et al., The Languages of Science: A Survey of Techniques of Communication (1963), i.
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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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Physicists speak of the particle representation or the wave representation. Bohr's principle of complementarity asserts that there exist complementary properties of the same object of knowledge, one of which if known will exclude knowledge of the other. We may therefore describe an object like an electron in ways which are mutually exclusive—e.g., as wave or particle—without logical contradiction provided we also realize that the experimental arrangements that determine these descriptions are similarly mutually exclusive. Which experiment—and hence which description one chooses—is purely a matter of human choice.
The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature (1982), 94.
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Poetry, mythology, and religion represent the world as man would like to have it, while science represents the world as he gradually comes to discover it.
In The Modern Temper: a Study and a Confession (1929), 6.
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Speech is the representation of the mind, and writing is the representation of speech.
Aristotle
In 'On Interpretation'. As quoted in New Encyclopedia Britannica (2003), Vol. 22, 567.
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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 conception that antibodies, which should protect against disease, are also responsible for the disease, sounds at first absurd. This has as its basis the fact that we are accustomed to see in disease only the harm done to the organism and to see in the antibodies solely antitoxic [protective] substances. One forgets too easily that the disease represents only a stage in the development of immunity, and that the organism often attains the advantage of immunity only by means of disease. ... Serum sickness represents, so to speak, an unnatural (artificial) form of disease.
C. von Pirquet and B. Schick, Die Serumkrankheit (1906), trans B. Schick, Serum Sickness (1951), 119-20.
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The development of the nucleoplasm during ontogeny may be to some extent compared to an army composed of corps, which are made up of divisions, and these of brigades, and so on. The whole army may be taken to represent the nucleoplasm of the germ-cell: the earliest cell-division … may be represented by the separation of the two corps, similarly formed but with different duties: and the following cell­divisions by the successive detachment of divisions, brigades, regiments, battalions, companies, etc.; and as the groups become simpler so does their sphere of action become limited.
In 'The Continuity of the Germ-plasm as the Foundation of a Theory of Heredity' (1885), Essays upon Heredity and Kindred Biological Problems (1891), Vol. 1, 195.
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The modern, and to my mind true, theory is that mathematics is the abstract form of the natural sciences; and that it is valuable as a training of the reasoning powers not because it is abstract, but because it is a representation of actual things.
From 'Introduction', Mathematical Teaching and its Modern Methods (1886), 9-10.
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The strata of the earth are frequently very much bent, being raised in some places, and depressed in others, and this sometimes with a very quick ascent or descent; but as these ascents and descents, in a great measure, compensate one another, if we take a large extent of country together, we may look upon the whole set of strata, as lying nearly horizontally. What is very remarkable, however, in their situation, is, that from most, if not all, large tracts of high and mountainous countries, the strata lie in a situation more inclined to the horizon, than the country itself, the mountainous countries being generally, if not always, formed out of the lower strata of earth. This situation of the strata may be not unaptly represented in the following manner. Let a number of leaves of paper, of several different sorts or colours, be pasted upon one another; then bending them up together into a ridge in the middle, conceive them to be reduced again to a level surface, by a plane so passing through them, as to cut off all the part that had been raised; let the middle now be again raised a little, and this will be a good general representation of most, if not of all, large tracts of mountainous countries, together with the parts adjacent, throughout the whole world.
'Conjectures Concerning the Cause, and Observations upon the Phenomena of Earthquakes', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London (1760), 51, 584-5.
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The supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.
…...
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These principles have given me a way of explaining naturally the union or rather the mutual agreement [conformité] of the soul and the organic body. The soul follows its own laws, and the body likewise follows its own laws; and they agree with each other in virtue of the pre-established harmony between all substances, since they are all representations of one and the same universe.
The Monadology and Other Philosophical Writings (1714), trans. Robert Latta (1898), 262.
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This theme of mutually invisible life at widely differing scales bears an important implication for the ‘culture wars’ that supposedly now envelop our universities and our intellectual discourse in general ... One side of this false dichotomy features the postmodern relativists who argue that all culturally bound modes of perception must be equally valid, and that no factual truth therefore exists. The other side includes the benighted, old-fashioned realists who insist that flies truly have two wings, and that Shakespeare really did mean what he thought he was saying. The principle of scaling provides a resolution for the false parts of this silly dichotomy. Facts are facts and cannot be denied by any rational being. (Often, facts are also not at all easy to determine or specify–but this question raises different issues for another time.) Facts, however, may also be highly scale dependent–and the perceptions of one world may have no validity or expression in the domain of another. The one-page map of Maine cannot recognize the separate boulders of Acadia, but both provide equally valid representations of a factual coastline.
The World as I See It (1999)
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This whole theory of electrostatics constitutes a group of abstract ideas and general propositions, formulated in the clear and precise language of geometry and algebra, and connected with one another by the rules of strict logic. This whole fully satisfies the reason of a French physicist and his taste for clarity, simplicity and order. The same does not hold for the Englishman. These abstract notions of material points, force, line of force, and equipotential surface do not satisfy his need to imagine concrete, material, visible, and tangible things. 'So long as we cling to this mode of representation,' says an English physicist, 'we cannot form a mental representation of the phenomena which are really happening.' It is to satisfy the need that he goes and creates a model.
The French or German physicist conceives, in the space separating two conductors, abstract lines of force having no thickness or real existence; the English physicist materializes these lines and thickens them to the dimensions of a tube which he will fill with vulcanised rubber. In place of a family of lines of ideal forces, conceivable only by reason, he will have a bundle of elastic strings, visible and tangible, firmly glued at both ends to the surfaces of the two conductors, and, when stretched, trying both to contact and to expand. When the two conductors approach each other, he sees the elastic strings drawing closer together; then he sees each of them bunch up and grow large. Such is the famous model of electrostatic action imagined by Faraday and admired as a work of genius by Maxwell and the whole English school.
The employment of similar mechanical models, recalling by certain more or less rough analogies the particular features of the theory being expounded, is a regular feature of the English treatises on physics. Here is a book* [by Oliver Lodge] intended to expound the modern theories of electricity and to expound a new theory. In it are nothing but strings which move around pulleys, which roll around drums, which go through pearl beads, which carry weights; and tubes which pump water while others swell and contract; toothed wheels which are geared to one another and engage hooks. We thought we were entering the tranquil and neatly ordered abode of reason, but we find ourselves in a factory.
*Footnote: O. Lodge, Les Théories Modernes (Modern Views on Electricity) (1889), 16.
The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory (1906), 2nd edition (1914), trans. Philip P. Wiener (1954), 70-1.
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To emphasize this opinion that mathematicians would be unwise to accept practical issues as the sole guide or the chief guide in the current of their investigations, ... let me take one more instance, by choosing a subject in which the purely mathematical interest is deemed supreme, the theory of functions of a complex variable. That at least is a theory in pure mathematics, initiated in that region, and developed in that region; it is built up in scores of papers, and its plan certainly has not been, and is not now, dominated or guided by considerations of applicability to natural phenomena. Yet what has turned out to be its relation to practical issues? The investigations of Lagrange and others upon the construction of maps appear as a portion of the general property of conformal representation; which is merely the general geometrical method of regarding functional relations in that theory. Again, the interesting and important investigations upon discontinuous two-dimensional fluid motion in hydrodynamics, made in the last twenty years, can all be, and now are all, I believe, deduced from similar considerations by interpreting functional relations between complex variables. In the dynamics of a rotating heavy body, the only substantial extension of our knowledge since the time of Lagrange has accrued from associating the general properties of functions with the discussion of the equations of motion. Further, under the title of conjugate functions, the theory has been applied to various questions in electrostatics, particularly in connection with condensers and electrometers. And, lastly, in the domain of physical astronomy, some of the most conspicuous advances made in the last few years have been achieved by introducing into the discussion the ideas, the principles, the methods, and the results of the theory of functions. … the refined and extremely difficult work of Poincare and others in physical astronomy has been possible only by the use of the most elaborate developments of some purely mathematical subjects, developments which were made without a thought of such applications.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section A, (1897), Nature, 56, 377.
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What distinguishes the straight line and circle more than anything else, and properly separates them for the purpose of elementary geometry? Their self-similarity. Every inch of a straight line coincides with every other inch, and of a circle with every other of the same circle. Where, then, did Euclid fail? In not introducing the third curve, which has the same property—the screw. The right line, the circle, the screw—the representations of translation, rotation, and the two combined—ought to have been the instruments of geometry. With a screw we should never have heard of the impossibility of trisecting an angle, squaring the circle, etc.
From Letter (15 Feb 1852) to W.R. Hamilton, collected in Robert Perceval Graves, Life of W.R. Hamilton (1889), Vol. 3, 343.
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What we believe, endorse, agree with, and depend on is representable and, increasingly, represented on the Web. We all have to ensure that the society we build with the Web is the sort we intend.
Weaving The Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web (2004), 123.
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When an investigator has developed a formula which gives a complete representation of the phenomena within a certain range, he may be prone to satisfaction. Would it not be wiser if he should say “Foiled again! I can find out no more about Nature along this line.”
Quoted in Astro-Physical Journal, 1945, 101, 133.
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Where speculation ends—in real life—there real, positive science begins: the representation of the practical activity, of the practical process of development of men. Empty talk about consciousness ceases, and real knowledge has to take its place.
Karl Marx
In David McLellan (ed.), 'The Premisses of the Material Method', Karl Marx: Selected Writings (2000), 181.
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With all reserve we advance the view that a supernova represents the transition of an ordinary star into a neutron star consisting mainly of neutrons. Such a star may possess a very small radius and an extremely high density. As neutrons can be packed much more closely than ordinary nuclei and electrons, the gravitational packing energy in a cold neutron star may become very large, and under certain conditions may far exceed the ordinary nuclear packing fractions...
[Co-author with Walter Baade]
Paper presented to American Physical Society meeting at Stanford (15-16 Dec 1933). Published in Physical Review (15 Jan 1934). Cited in P. Haensel, Paweł Haensel and A. Y. Potekhin, D. G. Yakovlev, Neutron Stars: Equation of State and Structure (2007), 2-3. Longer version of quote from Freeman Dyson, From Eros to Gaia (1992), 34. The theoretical prediction of neutron stars was made after analyzing observations of supernovae and proposed as an explanation of the enormous energy released in such explosions. It was written just two years after Chadwick discovered the neutron.
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[An outsider views a scientist] as a type of unscrupulous opportunist: he appears as a realist, insofar as he seeks to describe the world independent of the act of perception; as idealist insofar as he looks upon the concepts and theories as the free inventions of the human spirit (not logically derivable from that which is empirically given); as positivist insofar as he considers his concepts and theories justified only to the extent to which they furnish a logical representation of relations among sense experiences. He may even appear as Platonist or Pythagorean insofar as he considers the viewpoint of logical simplicity as an indispensable and effective tool of his research.
In 'Reply to Critcisms', Paul Arthur Schilpp (ed.), Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist (1949, 1959), Vol. 2, 684.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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