Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes


"In scientific thought we adopt the simplest theory which will explain all the facts under consideration and enable us to predict new facts of the same kind. The catch in this criterion lies in the world "simplest." It is really an aesthetic canon such as we find implicit in our criticisms of poetry or painting. The layman finds such a law as dx/dt = K(d^2x/dy^2) much less simple than "it oozes," of which it is the mathematical statement. The physicist reverses this judgment, and his statement is certainly the more fruitful of the two, so far as prediction is concerned. It is, however, a statement about something very unfamiliar to the plain man, namely, the rate of change of a rate of change." - J. B. S. Haldane, fully John Burdon Sanderson Haldane

"This is my prediction for the future - whatever hasn't happened will happen and no one will be safe from it." - J. B. S. Haldane, fully John Burdon Sanderson Haldane

"What is important is the gradual development of a theory, based on a careful analysis of the ... facts. ... Its first applications are necessarily to elementary problems where the result has never been in doubt and no theory is actually required. At this early stage the application serves to corroborate the theory. The next stage develops when the theory is applied to somewhat more complicated situations in which it may already lead to a certain extent beyond the obvious and familiar. Here theory and application corroborate each other mutually. Beyond lies the field of real success: genuine prediction by theory. It is well known that all mathematized sciences have gone through these successive stages of evolution. " - John Von Newmann

"Now, in a widening sphere of decisions, the costs of error are so exorbitant that we need to act on theory alone, which is to say on prediction alone. It follows that the reputation of scientific prediction needs to be enhanced. But that can happen, paradoxically, only if scientists disavow the certainty and precision that they normally insist on. Above all, we need to learn to act decisively to forestall predicted perils, even while knowing that they may never materialize. We must take action, in a manner of speaking, to preserve our ignorance. There are perils that we can be certain of avoiding only at the cost of never knowing with certainty that they were real." - Jonathan Schell, fully Jonathan Edward Schell

"The sweeping technological changes that have taken place during the past several generations are in keeping with the prediction some two thousand years ago in the Zohar, a classical text of mysticism, stating that in the year 1840, there would be an outburst of “lower wisdom,” or advancements in the physical universe, and an increase in “sublime wisdom,” or spirituality, would begin to usher true unity into the world, leading toward the final redemption." - Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe

"I do believe that every individual should be free to own, buy, and sell gold. If under those circumstances a private gold standard emerged, fine—although I make a scientific prediction that it’s very unlikely. But I think those people who say they believe in a gold standard are fundamentally being very anti-libertarian because what they mean by a gold standard is a governmentally fixed price for gold." - Milton Friedman, fully John Milton Friedman

"Occurrences in this domain are beyond the reach of exact prediction because of the variety of factors in operation, not because of any lack of order in nature." - Albert Einstein

"When the number of factors coming into play in a phenomenological complex is too large scientific method in most cases fails. One need only think of the weather, in which case the prediction even for a few days ahead is impossible." - Albert Einstein

"When you see a tiger, you had better not delay your prediction of its probable behavior." - Richard Dawkins

"I was lucky to wander into evolutionary theory, one of the most exciting and important of all scientific fields. I had never heard of it when I started at a rather tender age; I was simply awed by dinosaurs. I thought paleontologists spent their lives digging in up bones and putting them together, never venturing beyond the momentous issue of what connects to what. Then I discovered evolutionary theory. Ever since then, the duality of natural history — richness in particularities and potential union in underlying explanation — has propelled me." - Stephan Jay Gould

"I think the issues of identity mostly are poppycock. We are what we have done, which includes our promises, includes our hopes, but promises first." - Wendell Berry

"Life rises out of death, death rises out of life; in being opposite they yearn to each other, they give birth to each other and are forever reborn. And with them, all is reborn, the flower of the apple tree, the light of the stars. In life is death. In death is rebirth. What then is life without death? Life unchanging, everlasting, eternal?-What is it but death-death without rebirth?" - Ursula Le Guin, fully Ursula Kroeber Le Guin

"Science fiction is often described, and even defined, as extrapolative. The science fiction writer is supposed to take a trend or phenomenon of the here-and-now, purify and intensify it for dramatic effect, and extend it into the future. If this goes on, this is what will happen. A prediction is made. Method and results much resemble those of a scientist who feeds large doses of purified and concentrated food additive to mice, in order to predict what may happen to people who eat it in small quantities for a long time. The outcome seems almost inevitably to be cancer. So does the outcome of extrapolation. Strictly extrapolative works of science fiction generally arrive about where the Club of Rome arrives: somewhere between the gradual extinction of human liberty and the total extinction of terrestrial life." - Ursula Le Guin, fully Ursula Kroeber Le Guin

"Sci-fi uses the images that ‘sf’ — starting with H.G. Wells — made familiar: space travel, aliens, galactic wars and federations, time machines, et cetera, taking them literally, not caring if they are possible or even plausible. It has no interest in or relation to real science or technology. It's fantasy in space suits. Spectacle. Wizards with lasers. Kids with ray guns. I've written both, but I have to say I respect science fiction enough that I wince when people call it sci-fi." - Ursula Le Guin, fully Ursula Kroeber Le Guin

"It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk." - Vannevar Bush

"Isn't there a picture that belongs in the original frame? Life [one suspects she means spiritual life] cannot die. You can explode its dynamism [the physical body] but you cannot dissipate its energy. If you suffer where life suffered, the essence that once filled the frame will take from you something to dramatize and live again." - Eileen Garrett