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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index U > Category: Uncertainty

Uncertainty Quotes (56 quotes)

The supreme task of the physicist is to arrive at those universal elementary laws from which the cosmos can be built up by pure deduction. There is no logical path to these laws; only intuition, resting on sympathetic understanding of experience, can reach them. In this methodological uncertainty, one might suppose that there were any number of possible systems of theoretical physics all equally well justified; and this opinion is no doubt correct, theoretically. But the development of physics has shown that at any given moment, out of all conceivable constructions, a single one has always proved itself decidedly superior to all the rest.
Address (1918) for Max Planck's 60th birthday, at Physical Society, Berlin, 'Principles of Research' in Essays in Science (1934), 4.
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Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason—Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge.
Letter to George and Thomas Keats (21 Dec 1817). In H. E. Rollins (ed.), Letters of John Keats (1958), Vol. 1, 193-4.
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A statistical analysis, properly conducted, is a delicate dissection of uncertainties, a surgery of suppositions.
In Facts from Figures (1951), 3.
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An optimist is someone who believes the future is uncertain.
Anonymous
No primary source found, so Webmaster believes this is merely anonymous. However, in Arnold O. Allen, Probability, Statistics, and Queueing Theory (1990), it is attributed to Edward Teller; but also occasionally seen on the Web attributed to Leo Szilard. If you know a primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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Any experiment may be regarded as forming an individual of a 'population' of experiments which might be performed under the same conditions. A series of experiments is a sample drawn from this population.
Now any series of experiments is only of value in so far as it enables us to form a judgment as to the statistical constants of the population to which the experiments belong. In a great number of cases the question finally turns on the value of a mean, either directly, or as the mean difference between the two qualities.
If the number of experiments be very large, we may have precise information as to the value of the mean, but if our sample be small, we have two sources of uncertainty:— (I) owing to the 'error of random sampling' the mean of our series of experiments deviates more or less widely from the mean of the population, and (2) the sample is not sufficiently large to determine what is the law of distribution of individuals.
'The Probable Error of a Mean', Biometrika, 1908, 6, 1.
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Apprehension, uncertainty, waiting, expectation, fear of surprise, do a patient more harm than any exertion. Remember he is face to face with his enemy all the time.
In Notes on Nursing: What it is, and What it is Not (1860), 53.
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Einstein never accepted quantum mechanics because of this element of chance and uncertainty. He said: God does not play dice. It seems that Einstein was doubly wrong. The quantum effects of black holes suggests that not only does God play dice, He sometimes throws them where they cannot be seen.
…...
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Entrepreneurs must devote a portion of their minds to constantly processing uncertainty. So you sacrifice a degree of being present.
Replying to question, “What have you sacrificed for success.” In Issie Lapowsky, 'Scott Belsky', Inc. (Nov 2013), 140. Biography in Context,
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Every gambler stakes a certainty to gain an uncertainty, and yet he stakes a finite certainty against a finite uncertainty without acting unreasonably. … The uncertainty of gain is proportioned to the certainty of the stake, according to the proportion of chances of gain and loss, and if therefore there are as many chances on one side as on the other, the game is even.
In Blaise Pascal and C. Kegan Paul (trans.), 'Of The Need of Seeking Truth', The Thought of Blaise Pascal: Translated from the Text of M. Auguste Molinier (1905), 98.
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Extremely hazardous is the desire to explain everything, and to supply whatever appears a gap in history—for in this propensity lies the first cause and germ of all those violent and arbitrary hypotheses which perplex and pervert the science of history far more than the open avowal of our ignorance, or the uncertainty of our knowledge: hypotheses which give an oblique direction, or an exaggerated and false extension, to a view of the subject originally not incorrect.
In Friedrich von Schlegel and James Burton Robertson (trans.), The Philosophy of History (1835), 12.
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For, Mathematical Demonstrations being built upon the impregnable Foundations of Geometry and Arithmetick, are the only Truths, that can sink into the Mind of Man, void of all Uncertainty; and all other Discourses participate more or less of Truth, according as their Subjects are more or less capable of Mathematical Demonstration.
Inaugural lecture of Christopher Wren in his chair of astronomy at Gresham College (1657). From Parentelia (1741, 1951), 200-201.
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His mother’s favorite, he [Freud] possessed the self-confidence that told him he would achieve something worth while in life, and the ambition to do so, though for long the direction this would take remained uncertain.
In The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud: The Formative Years and the Great Discoveries, 1856-1900 (1957), 15.
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Historically [chemistry] arose from a constellation of interests: the empirically based technologies of early metallurgists, brewers, dyers, tanners, calciners and pharmacists; the speculative Greek philosphers' concern whether brute matter was invariant or transformable; the alchemists' real or symbolic attempts to achieve the transmutation of base metals into gold; and the iatrochemists' interst in the chemistry and pathology of animal and human functions. Partly because of the sheer complexity of chemical phenomena, the absence of criteria and standards of purity, and uncertainty over the definition of elements ... but above all because of the lack of a concept of the gaseous state of matter, chemistry remained a rambling, puzzling and chaotic area of natural philosophy until the middle of the eighteenth century.
The Chemical Tree: A History of Chemistry (2000), xxii.
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I can live with doubt and uncertainty. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong.
From transcript of a BBC television program, 'The Pleasure of Finding Things Out' (1981). In Richard Phillips Feynman and Jeffrey Robbins (ed.), The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: the Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman (2000), 24.
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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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In all speculations on the origin, or agents that have produced the changes on this globe, it is probable that we ought to keep within the boundaries of the probable effects resulting from the regular operations of the great laws of nature which our experience and observation have brought within the sphere of our knowledge. When we overleap those limits, and suppose a total change in nature's laws, we embark on the sea of uncertainty, where one conjecture is perhaps as probable as another; for none of them can have any support, or derive any authority from the practical facts wherewith our experience has brought us acquainted.
Observations on the Geology of the United States of America (1817), iv-v.
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In both social and natural sciences, the body of positive knowledge grows by the failure of a tentative hypothesis to predict phenomena the hypothesis professes to explain; by the patching up of that hypothesis until someone suggests a new hypothesis that more elegantly or simply embodies the troublesome phenomena, and so on ad infinitum. In both, experiment is sometimes possible, sometimes not (witness meteorology). In both, no experiment is ever completely controlled, and experience often offers evidence that is the equivalent of controlled experiment. In both, there is no way to have a self-contained closed system or to avoid interaction between the observer and the observed. The Gödel theorem in mathematics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle in physics, the self-fulfilling or self-defeating prophecy in the social sciences all exemplify these limitations.
Inflation and Unemployment (1976), 348.
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In the strict formulation of the law of causality—if we know the present, we can calculate the future—it is not the conclusion that is wrong but the premise.
On an implication of the uncertainty principle.
Quoted in David C. Cassidy, Beyond Uncertainty: Heisenberg, Quantum Physics, and the Bomb (2009), 162.
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Induction. The mental operation by which from a number of individual instances, we arrive at a general law. The process, according to Hamilton, is only logically valid when all the instances included in the law are enumerated. This being seldom, if ever, possible, the conclusion of an Induction is usually liable to more or less uncertainty, and Induction is therefore incapable of giving us necessary (general) truths.
Stated as narrative, not a direct quote, by his biographer W.H.S. Monck in 'Glossary of Philosophical Terms', appended in Sir William Hamilton (1881), 181.
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Inspect every piece of pseudoscience and you will find a security blanket, a thumb to suck, a skirt to hold. What does the scientist have to offer in exchange? Uncertainty! Insecurity!
Past, Present, and Future (1987), 65.
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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.
In Werke [Kehrbach] (1890), Bd. 5, 105. As quoted, cited and translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 19.
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Journalists do not like to report on uncertainties. They would almost rather be wrong than ambiguous.
In 'How Journalists Regard Their Field', Christian Science Monitor (23 Jan 1985).
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Many scientists have tried to make determinism and complementarity the basis of conclusions that seem to me weak and dangerous; for instance, they have used Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle to bolster up human free will, though his principle, which applies exclusively to the behavior of electrons and is the direct result of microphysical measurement techniques, has nothing to do with human freedom of choice. It is far safer and wiser that the physicist remain on the solid ground of theoretical physics itself and eschew the shifting sands of philosophic extrapolations.
In New Perspectives in Physics (1962), viii.
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Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability.
William Bennett Bean (ed.), Sir William Osler: Aphorisms from his Bedside Teachings and Writings, No. 265 (1950), 125.
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More and more of out colleagues fail to understand our work because of the high specialization of research problems. We must not be discouraged if the products of our labor are not read or even known to exist. The joy of research must be found in doing since every other harvest is uncertain.
Letter to Dr. E. B. Krumhaar (11 Oct 1933), in Journal of Bacteriology (Jan 1934), 27, No. 1, 20.
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One may say that predictions are dangerous particularly for the future. If the danger involved in a prediction is not incurred, no consequence follows and the uncertainty principle is not violated.
Edward Teller , Wendy Teller and Wilson Talley, Conversations from the Dark Side of Physics (1991, 2002), 235.
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Physicists often quote from T. H. White’s epic novel The Once and Future King, where a society of ants declares, “Everything not forbidden is compulsory.” In other words, if there isn't a basic principle of physics forbidding time travel, then time travel is necessarily a physical possibility. (The reason for this is the uncertainty principle. Unless something is forbidden, quantum effects and fluctuations will eventually make it possible if we wait long enough. Thus, unless there is a law forbidding it, it will eventually occur.)
In Parallel Worlds: a Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos (2006), 136.
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Poets need be in no degree jealous of the geologists. The stony science, with buried creations for its domains, and half an eternity charged with its annals, possesses its realms of dim and shadowy fields, in which troops of fancies already walk like disembodied ghosts in the old fields of Elysium, and which bid fair to be quite dark and uncertain enough for all the purposes of poesy for centuries to come.
Lecture Third, collected in Popular Geology: A Series of Lectures Read Before the Philosophical Institution of Edinburgh, with Descriptive Sketches from a Geologist's Portfolio (1859), 127.
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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 founded on uncertainty. Each time we learn something new and surprising, the astonishment comes with the realization that we were wrong before.
In 'On Science and Certainty', Discover Magazine (Oct 1980), 58.
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Science is uncertain. Theories are subject to revision; observations are open to a variety of interpretations, and scientists quarrel amongst themselves. This is disillusioning for those untrained in the scientific method, who thus turn to the rigid certainty of the Bible instead. There is something comfortable about a view that allows for no deviation and that spares you the painful necessity of having to think.
The 'Threat' of Creationism. In Ashley Montagu (ed.), Science and Creationism (1984), 192.
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The chemists who uphold dualism are far from being agreed among themselves; nevertheless, all of them in maintaining their opinion, rely upon the phenomena of chemical reactions. For a long time the uncertainty of this method has been pointed out: it has been shown repeatedly, that the atoms put into movement during a reaction take at that time a new arrangement, and that it is impossible to deduce the old arrangement from the new one. It is as if, in the middle of a game of chess, after the disarrangement of all the pieces, one of the players should wish, from the inspection of the new place occupied by each piece, to determine that which it originally occupied.
Chemical Method (1855), 18.
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The determining cause of most wars in the past has been, and probably will be of all wars in the future, the uncertainty of the result; war is acknowledged to be a challenge to the Unknown, it is often spoken of as an appeal to the God of Battles. The province of science is to foretell; this is true of every department of science. And the time must come—how soon we do not know—when the real science of war, something quite different from the application of science to the means of war, will make it possible to foresee with certainty the issue of a projected war. That will mark the end of battles; for however strong the spirit of contention, no nation will spend its money in a fight in which it knows it must lose.
Times Literary Supplement (28 Nov 1902), 353-4.
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The establishment of the periodic law may truly be said to mark a line in chemical science, and we anticipate that its application and and extension will be fraught With the most important consequences. It reminds us how important above all things is the correct determination of the fundamental constants of our science—the atomic weights of the elements, about which in many cases great uncertainty prevails; it is much to be desired that this may not long remain the case. It also affords the strongest encouragement to the chemist to persevere in the search for new elements.
In The Encyclopaedia Britannica: Ninth Edition (1877), Vol. 5, 714.
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The explorations of space end on a note of uncertainty. And necessarily so. … We know our immediate neighborhood rather intimately. With increasing distance our knowledge fades, and fades rapidly. Eventually, we reach the dim boundary—the utmost limits of our telescopes. There, we measure shadows, and we search among ghostly errors of measurement for landmarks that are scarcely more substantial. The search will continue. Not until the empirical resources are exhausted, need we pass on to the dreamy realms of speculation.
From conclusion of The Silliman Memorial Lectures Series delivered at Yale University (Fall 1935). Collected in The Realm of the Nebulae: The Silliman Memorial Lectures Series (1936), 201-202.
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The future is uncertain… but this uncertainty is at the very heart of human creativity.
Quoted in Petruska Clarkson, The Transpersonal Relationship in Psychotherapy (2002), 87, cited in footnote as from “A (very) brief history of certainty. Network – The Scientific and Medical Network Review (Winter 1995), 7.
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The history of this paper suggests that highly speculative investigations, especially by an unknown author, are best brought before the world through some other channel than a scientific society, which naturally hesitates to admit into its printed records matters of uncertain value. Perhaps one may go further and say that a young author who believes himself capable of great things would usually do well to secure the favourable recognition of the scientific world by work whose scope is limited and whose value is easily judged, before embarking upon higher flights.
'On the Physics of Media that are Composed of Free and Perfectly Elastic Molecules in a State of Motion', Philosophical Transactions (1892), 183, 560.
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The incomplete knowledge of a system must be an essential part of every formulation in quantum theory. Quantum theoretical laws must be of a statistical kind. To give an example: we know that the radium atom emits alpha-radiation. Quantum theory can give us an indication of the probability that the alpha-particle will leave the nucleus in unit time, but it cannot predict at what precise point in time the emission will occur, for this is uncertain in principle.
The Physicist's Conception of Nature (1958), 41.
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The law is a sort of hocus-pocus science, that smiles in yer face while it picks yer pocket; and the glorious uncertainty of it is of mair use to the professors than the justice of it.
Love à la Mode, Act 2. Scene 1. In John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations (1868), 304.
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The only thing we know for sure about the future is that it will be radically different from the past. In the face of this enormous uncertainty, the least we can do for future generations is to pass on as many of the planet’s resources as possible.
…...
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The present state of the system of nature is evidently a consequence of what it was in the preceding moment, and if we conceive of an intelligence that at a given instant comprehends all the relations of the entities of this universe, it could state the respective position, motions, and general affects of all these entities at any time in the past or future. Physical astronomy, the branch of knowledge that does the greatest honor to the human mind, gives us an idea, albeit imperfect, of what such an intelligence would be. The simplicity of the law by which the celestial bodies move, and the relations of their masses and distances, permit analysis to follow their motions up to a certain point; and in order to determine the state of the system of these great bodies in past or future centuries, it suffices for the mathematician that their position and their velocity be given by observation for any moment in time. Man owes that advantage to the power of the instrument he employs, and to the small number of relations that it embraces in its calculations. But ignorance of the different causes involved in the production of events, as well as their complexity, taken together with the imperfection of analysis, prevents our reaching the same certainty about the vast majority of phenomena. Thus there are things that are uncertain for us, things more or less probable, and we seek to compensate for the impossibility of knowing them by determining their different degrees of likelihood. So it was that we owe to the weakness of the human mind one of the most delicate and ingenious of mathematical theories, the science of chance or probability.
'Recherches, 1º, sur l'Intégration des Équations Différentielles aux Différences Finies, et sur leur Usage dans la Théorie des Hasards' (1773, published 1776). In Oeuvres complètes de Laplace, 14 Vols. (1843-1912), Vol. 8, 144-5, trans. Charles Coulston Gillispie, Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827: A Life in Exact Science (1997), 26.
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The 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 uncertainty where to look for the next opening of discovery brings the pain of conflict and the debility of indecision.
In Appendix, 'Art of Discovery', Logic: Deduction (1870), Vol. 2, 422.
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There is another approach to the extraterrestrial hypothesis of UFO origins. This assessment depends on a large number of factors about which we know little, and a few about which we know literally nothing. I want to make some crude numerical estimate of the probability that we are frequently visited by extraterrestrial beings.
Now, there is a range of hypotheses that can be examined in such a way. Let me give a simple example: Consider the Santa Claus hypothesis, which maintains that, in a period of eight hours or so on December 24-25 of each year, an outsized elf visits one hundred million homes in the United States. This is an interesting and widely discussed hypothesis. Some strong emotions ride on it, and it is argued that at least it does no harm.
We can do some calculations. Suppose that the elf in question spends one second per house. This isn't quite the usual picture—“Ho, Ho, Ho,” and so on—but imagine that he is terribly efficient and very speedy; that would explain why nobody ever sees him very much-only one second per house, after all. With a hundred million houses he has to spend three years just filling stockings. I have assumed he spends no time at all in going from house to house. Even with relativistic reindeer, the time spent in a hundred million houses is three years and not eight hours. This is an example of hypothesis-testing independent of reindeer propulsion mechanisms or debates on the origins of elves. We examine the hypothesis itself, making very straightforward assumptions, and derive a result inconsistent with the hypothesis by many orders of magnitude. We would then suggest that the hypothesis is untenable.
We can make a similar examination, but with greater uncertainty, of the extraterrestrial hypothesis that holds that a wide range of UFOs viewed on the planet Earth are space vehicles from planets of other stars.
The Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective (1973), 200.
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Therefore on long pondering this uncertainty of mathematical traditions on the deduction of the motions of the system of the spheres, I began to feel disgusted that no more certain theory of the motions of the mechanisms of the universe, which has been established for us by the best and most systematic craftsman of all, was agreed by the philosophers, who otherwise theorised so minutely with most careful attention to the details of this system. I therefore set myself the task of reading again the books of all philosophers which were available to me, to search out whether anyone had ever believed that the motions of the spheres of the, universe were other than was supposed by those who professed mathematics in the schools.
'To His Holiness Pope Paul III', in Copernicus: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (1543), trans. A. M. Duncan (1976), 25.
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This is the element that distinguishes applied science from basic. Surprise is what makes the difference. When you are organized to apply knowledge, set up targets, produce a usable product, you require a high degree of certainty from the outset. All the facts on which you base protocols must be reasonably hard facts with unambiguous meaning. The challenge is to plan the work and organize the workers so that it will come out precisely as predicted. For this, you need centralized authority, elaborately detailed time schedules, and some sort of reward system based on speed and perfection. But most of all you need the intelligible basic facts to begin with, and these must come from basic research. There is no other source. In basic research, everything is just the opposite. What you need at the outset is a high degree of uncertainty; otherwise it isn’t likely to be an important problem. You start with an incomplete roster of facts, characterized by their ambiguity; often the problem consists of discovering the connections between unrelated pieces of information. You must plan experiments on the basis of probability, even bare possibility, rather than certainty.
The Planning of Science, The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher, (1974) .
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Those who have taken upon them to lay down the law of nature as a thing already searched out and understood, whether they have spoken in simple assurance or professional affectation, have therein done philosophy and the sciences great injury. For as they have been successful in inducing belief, so they have been effective in quenching and stopping inquiry; and have done more harm by spoiling and putting an end to other men's efforts than good by their own. Those on the other hand who have taken a contrary course, and asserted that absolutely nothing can be known — whether it were from hatred of the ancient sophists, or from uncertainty and fluctuation of mind, or even from a kind of fullness of learning, that they fell upon this opinion — have certainly advanced reasons for it that are not to be despised; but yet they have neither started from true principles nor rested in the just conclusion, zeal and affectation having carried them much too far...
Now my method, though hard to practice, is easy to explain; and it is this. I propose to establish progressive stages of certainty. The evidence of the sense, helped and guarded by a certain process of correction, I retain. But the mental operation which follows the act of sense I for the most part reject; and instead of it I open and lay out a new and certain path for the mind to proceed in, starting directly from the simple sensuous perception.
Novum Organum (1620)
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Thus one becomes entangled in contradictions if one speaks of the probable position of the electron without considering the experiment used to determine it ... It must also be emphasized that the statistical character of the relation depends on the fact that the influence of the measuring device is treated in a different manner than the interaction of the various parts of the system on one another. This last interaction also causes changes in the direction of the vector representing the system in the Hilbert space, but these are completely determined. If one were to treat the measuring device as a part of the system—which would necessitate an extension of the Hilbert space—then the changes considered above as indeterminate would appear determinate. But no use could be made of this determinateness unless our observation of the measuring device were free of indeterminateness. For these observations, however, the same considerations are valid as those given above, and we should be forced, for example, to include our own eyes as part of the system, and so on. The chain of cause and effect could be quantitatively verified only if the whole universe were considered as a single system—but then physics has vanished, and only a mathematical scheme remains. The partition of the world into observing and observed system prevents a sharp formulation of the law of cause and effect. (The observing system need not always be a human being; it may also be an inanimate apparatus, such as a photographic plate.)
The Physical Principles of the Quantum Theory, trans. Carl Eckart and Frank C. Hoyt (1949), 58.
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We ought then to consider the present state of the universe as the effect of its previous state and as the cause of that which is to follow. An intelligence that, at a given instant, could comprehend all the forces by which nature is animated and the respective situation of the beings that make it up, if moreover it were vast enough to submit these data to analysis, would encompass in the same formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the lightest atoms. For such an intelligence nothing would be uncertain, and the future, like the past, would be open to its eyes.
Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1814), 5th edition (1825), trans. Andrew I. Dale (1995), 2.
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What a chimera ... is man ! What a novelty, what a monster, what a chaos, what a subject of contradiction, what a prodigy! A judge of all things, feeble worm of the earth, depository of the truth, cloacae of uncertainty and error, the glory and the shame of the universe!
…...
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While we cannot accurately predict the course of climate change in the coming decades, the risks we run if we don’t change our course are enormous. Prudent risk management does not equate uncertainty with inaction.
In letter (1 Feb 2013) to Energy Department employees announcing his decision not to serve a second term.
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You should call it entropy, for two reasons. In the first place your uncertainty function has been used in statistical mechanics under that name, so it already has a name. In the second place, and more important, no one really knows what entropy really is, so in a debate you will always have the advantage.
From the recollection of Claude Shannon given in discussion with Myron Tribus (Apr 1961) about the reason Shannon chose the word “entropy” for his information function (first used by Shannon in a 1945 memorandum at Bell Labs). The suggestion from Neumann to use “entropy” dates back to a Neumann-Shannon conversation c.1940. Shannon’s recollection of the Neumann’s recommendation was quoted as recollected by Tribus in Myron Tribus and Edward C. McIrving, 'Energy and Information', Scientific American (1971), 225, 179-88.
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You tell me of an invisible planetary system in which electrons gravitate around a nucleus. You explain this world to me with an image. I realize that you have been reduced to poetry. … So that science that was to teach me everything ends up in a hypothesis, that lucidity founders in metaphor, that uncertainty is resolved in a work of art.
In Albert Camus and Justin O’Brien (trans.), 'An Absurd Reasoning', The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays (1955), 15.
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[Modern science] passed through a long period of uncertainty and inconclusive experiment, but as the instrumental aids to research improved, and the results of observation accumulated, phantoms of the imagination were exorcised, idols of the cave were shattered, trustworthy materials were obtained for logical treatment, and hypotheses by long and careful trial were converted into theories.
In The Present Relations of Science and Religion (1913, 2004), 3
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[Richard Feynman] believed in the primacy of doubt, not as a blemish upon our ability to know but as the essence of knowing. The alternative to uncertainty is authority, against which science has fought for centuries.
In Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1992), 371-372.
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[Shawn Lawrence Otto describes the damaging] strategy used to undermine science in the interest of those industries where science has pointed out the dangers of their products to individuals and human life in general … [It was] used a generation ago by the tobacco industry… First they manufacture uncertainty by raising doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence. Then they launder information by using seemingly independent front organizations to promote their desired message and thereby confuse the public. And finally they recruit unscrupulous scientific spokespeople to misrepresent peer-reviewed scientific findings and cherry-pick facts in an attempt to persuade the media and the public that there is still serious debate among scientists on the issue at hand.
In 'Science Is Politics', Huffington Post (28 May 2014).
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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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Sophie Germain
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Carl Gauss
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- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
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Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
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Winston Churchill
- 80 -
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Bible
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- 70 -
Samuel Morse
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Thomas Edison
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- 60 -
Francis Galton
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Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
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William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
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John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
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- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
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- 20 -
Carl Sagan
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- 10 -
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