Speculative Quotes (11 quotes)
I confess, that after I began … to discern how useful mathematicks may be made to physicks, I have often wished that I had employed about the speculative part of geometry, and the cultivation of the specious Algebra I had been taught very young, a good part of that time and industry, that I had spent about surveying and fortification (of which I remember I once wrote an entire treatise) and other parts of practick mathematicks.
If any archaeologist is to pass the bounds of his science into the domain of speculative history we had rather it were Sir Arthur Evans than another. He does it with an infectious enthusiasm, and his immense comparative knowledge tells us so many things by the way.
It has always seemed to me extreme presumptuousness on the part of those who want to make human ability the measure of what nature can and knows how to do, since, when one comes down to it, there is not one effect in nature, no matter how small, that even the most speculative minds can fully understand.
It is now necessary to indicate more definitely the reason why mathematics not only carries conviction in itself, but also transmits conviction to the objects to which it is applied. The reason is found, first of all, in the perfect precision with which the elementary mathematical concepts are determined; in this respect each science must look to its own salvation .... But this is not all. As soon as human thought attempts long chains of conclusions, or difficult matters generally, there arises not only the danger of error but also the suspicion of error, because since all details cannot be surveyed with clearness at the same instant one must in the end be satisfied with a belief that nothing has been overlooked from the beginning. Every one knows how much this is the case even in arithmetic, the most elementary use of mathematics. No one would imagine that the higher parts of mathematics fare better in this respect; on the contrary, in more complicated conclusions the uncertainty and suspicion of hidden errors increases in rapid progression. How does mathematics manage to rid itself of this inconvenience which attaches to it in the highest degree? By making proofs more rigorous? By giving new rules according to which the old rules shall be applied? Not in the least. A very great uncertainty continues to attach to the result of each single computation. But there are checks. In the realm of mathematics each point may be reached by a hundred different ways; and if each of a hundred ways leads to the same point, one may be sure that the right point has been reached. A calculation without a check is as good as none. Just so it is with every isolated proof in any speculative science whatever; the proof may be ever so ingenious, and ever so perfectly true and correct, it will still fail to convince permanently. He will therefore be much deceived, who, in metaphysics, or in psychology which depends on metaphysics, hopes to see his greatest care in the precise determination of the concepts and in the logical conclusions rewarded by conviction, much less by success in transmitting conviction to others. Not only must the conclusions support each other, without coercion or suspicion of subreption, but in all matters originating in experience, or judging concerning experience, the results of speculation must be verified by experience, not only superficially, but in countless special cases.
Man tries to make for himself in the fashion that suits him best a simplified and intelligible picture of the world; he then tries to some extent to substitute this cosmos of his for the world of experience, and thus to overcome it. This is what the painter, the poet, the speculative philosopher, and the natural scientist do, each in his own fashion. Each makes this cosmos and its construction the pivot of his emotional life, in order to find in this way the peace and security which he cannot find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience.
Saturated with that speculative spirit then pervading the Greek mind, he [Pythagoras] endeavoured to discover some principle of homogeneity in the universe. Before him, the philosophers of the Ionic school had sought it in the matter of things; Pythagoras looked for it in the structure of things. He observed the various numerical relations or analogies between numbers and the phenomena of the universe. Being convinced that it was in numbers and their relations that he was to find the foundation to true philosophy, he proceeded to trace the origin of all things to numbers. Thus he observed that musical strings of equal lengths stretched by weights having the proportion of 1/2, 2/3, 3/4, produced intervals which were an octave, a fifth and a fourth. Harmony, therefore, depends on musical proportion; it is nothing but a mysterious numerical relation. Where harmony is, there are numbers. Hence the order and beauty of the universe have their origin in numbers. There are seven intervals in the musical scale, and also seven planets crossing the heavens. The same numerical relations which underlie the former must underlie the latter. But where number is, there is harmony. Hence his spiritual ear discerned in the planetary motions a wonderful “Harmony of spheres.”
Science is knowledge certain and evident in itself, or by the principles from which it is deducted, or with which it is certainly connected. It is subjective, as existing in the mind; objective, as embodied in truths; speculative, as leading to do something, as in practical science.
The discovery of the conic sections, attributed to Plato, first threw open the higher species of form to the contemplation of geometers. But for this discovery, which was probably regarded in Plato’s tune and long after him, as the unprofitable amusement of a speculative brain, the whole course of practical philosophy of the present day, of the science of astronomy, of the theory of projectiles, of the art of navigation, might have run in a different channel; and the greatest discovery that has ever been made in the history of the world, the law of universal gravitation, with its innumerable direct and indirect consequences and applications to every department of human research and industry, might never to this hour have been elicited.
The due cultivation of practical manual arts in a nation, has a greater tendency to polish, and humanize mankind, than mere speculative science, however refined and sublime it may be.
The school of Plato has advanced the interests of the race as much through geometry as through philosophy. The modern engineer, the navigator, the astronomer, built on the truths which those early Greeks discovered in their purely speculative investigations. And if the poetry, statesmanship, oratory, and philosophy of our day owe much to Plato’s divine Dialogues, our commerce, our manufactures, and our science are equally indebted to his Conic Sections. Later instances may be abundantly quoted, to show that the labors of the mathematician have outlasted those of the statesman, and wrought mightier changes in the condition of the world. Not that we would rank the geometer above the patriot, but we claim that he is worthy of equal honor.
True science is never speculative; it employs hypotheses as suggesting points for inquiry, but it never adopts the hypotheses as though they were demonstrated propositions.