Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes


"Man is born for action; he ought to do something. Work, at each step, awakens a sleeping force and roots our error. Who does nothing, knows nothing. Rise! to work! If thy knowledge is real, employ it; wrestle with nature; test the strength of thy theories; see if they will support the trial; act!" - Alfred "Trader Horn" Aloysius, born Alfred Aloysius Smith

"I don’t see any reason why we should have less confidence in this kind of perception, I.e., in mathematical intuition, than in sense perception, which induces us to build up physical theories and to expect that future sense perceptions will agree with them and, moreover, to believe that a question not decidable now has meaning and may be decided in the future." - Kurt Gödel, also Goedel

"Education is not to teach men facts, theories or laws, not to reform or amuse them or make them expert technicians. It is to unsettle their minds, widen their horizons, inflame their intellect, teach them to think straight, if possible, but to think nevertheless." - Robert Hutchins, fully Robert Maynard Hutchins

"All theories, all values, all reforms, all revolutions, all change, and all actions are built on the shifting sands of custom and opinion, and the winds of doubt and new circumstances and considerations are always blowing, always rising." - Robert E. Carter, fully Robert Edgar Carter

"In spite of the fact that religion looks backward to revealed truth while science looks forward to new vistas and discoveries, both activities produce a sense of awe and a curious mixture of humility and arrogance in practitioners. All great scientists are inspired by the subtlety and beauty of the natural world that they are seeking to understand. Each new subatomic particle, every unexpected object, produces delight and wonderment. In constructing their theories, physicists are frequently guided by arcane concepts of elegance in the belief that the universe is intrinsically beautiful." - Paul Davies

"Today scientists describe the universe in terms of two basic partial theories – the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. They are the great intellectual achievements of this century. The general theory of relativity describes the force of gravity and the large-scale structure of the universe (that is the structure on scales from only a few miles to as large as a million million million million miles – the size of the observable universe). Quantum mechanics, on the other hand, deals with phenomena on extremely small scales, such as a millionth of a millionth of an inch. Unfortunately, however, these two theories are known to be inconsistent with each other – they cannot both be correct." - Stephen Hawking

"What the world needs is a sense of ultimate embarrassment. Modern man has the power and the wealth to overcome poverty and disease, but he has no wisdom to overcome suspicion. We are guilty of misunderstanding the meaning of existence; we are guilty of distorting our goals and misrepresenting our souls. We are better than our assertions, more intricate, more profound than our theories maintain." - Abraham Joshua Heschel

"Learn your theories but put them aside when you confront the mystery of the living soul." - Carl Jung, fully Carl Gustav Jung

"Learning to learn is to know how to navigate in a forest of facts, ideas and theories, a proliferation of constantly changing items of knowledge. Learning to learn is to know what to ignore but at the same time not rejecting innovation and research." - Raymond Queneau

"Precisely what we need are good theories to focus our attention, a good set of ideals to guide our action, and good visions of the future to mobilize our energies." - Paul H. Ray

"Scientific evidence is accretionary, built from blocks of evidence joined artfully by the blueprints and mortar of theory. Only very rarely, as in the theories of natural selection and relativity, does an idea change our conception of the world in one quantal leap." -

"Scientists look for four qualities in theory generally… parsimony: the fewer the units and process used to account for the phenomenon, the better… second, generality: the greater the range of phenomena covered by the model, the more likely it is to be true… Consilence: units and process of a discipline that conform with solidly verified knowledge in other disciplines have proven consistently superior in theory and practice to units and processes that do not conform… Predictiveness: those theories endure that are precise in the predictions they make across phenomena and whose predictions are easiest to test by observation and experiment." -

"I remember that one time Carl [Sagan] was giving a talk, and he spelled out, in a kind of withering succession, these great theories of demotion that science has dealt us, all of the ways in which science is telling us we are not who we would like to believe we are. At the end of it, a young man came up to him and he said: "What do you give us in return? Now that you've taken everything from us? What meaning is left, if everything that I've been taught since I was a child turns out to be untrue?" Carl looked at him and said, "Do something meaningful."" -

"I have never seen the slightest scientific proof of the religious theories of heaven and hell, of future life for individuals, or of a personal God." - Thomas Edison, fully Thomas Alva Edison

"Today scientists describe the universe in terms of two basic partial theories - the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics... The general theory of relativity describes the force of gravity and the large-scale structure of the universe, that is, the structure on scales from only a few miles to as large as a million million million million (1 with twenty-four zeros after it) miles, the size of the observable universe. Quantum mechanics, on the other hands, deals with phenomena on extremely small scales, such as a millionth of a millionth of an inch. Unfortunately, however, these two theories are known to be inconsistent with each other - they cannot both be correct." -

"I have taken pains to show that financial markets left to their own devices don't tend towards an equilibrium that assures an optimum allocation of resources. The theories of efficient markets and rational expectations don't stand up to critical examination." - George Soros, Hungarian as Soros György, born Schwartz György

"Art is never didactic, does not take kindly to facts, is helpless to grapple with theories, and is killed outright by a sermon." - Agnes Repplier

"Art is never didactic, does not take kindly to facts, is helpless to grapple with theories, and is killed outright by a sermon." -

"Art is never didactic, does not take kindly to facts, is helpless to grapple with theories, and is killed outright by a sermon." -

"Lack of experience diminishes our power of taking a comprehensive view of the admitted facts. Hence those who dwell in intimate association with nature and its phenomena grow more and more able to formulate, as the foundation of their theories, principles such as to admit of a wide and coherent development: while those whom devotion to abstract discussions has rendered unobservant of the facts are too ready to dogmatize on the basis of a few observations." - Aristotle NULL

"Theories are private property, but truth is common stock." - Charles Caleb Colton

"We do not talk - we bludgeon one another with facts and theories gleaned from cursory readings of newspapers, magazines and digests." - Henry Miller, aka Henry Valentine Miller

"Theories are always very thin and insubstantial, experience only is tangible." - Hosea Ballou

"The moment a man can really do his work, he becomes speechless about it; all words are idle to him; all theories. Does a bird need to theorize about building its nest, or boast of it when built? All good work is essentially done that way; without hesitation; without difficulty; without boasting." - John Ruskin

"In education the life of the mind proceeds gradually from scientific experiments to intellectual theories, to spiritual feeling, and then to God." - Kahlil Gibran

"We should accept the suitability of partial views for partial contexts... Too often the attempt to devise moral theories and systems that can encompass all problems leads to so much vagueness, unclarity, grandiosity, and indeterminacy in applying them that these theories and systems are actually applied to almost nothing." - Martin Heidegger

"Knowledge is not a series of self-consistent theories that converges toward an ideal view; it is rather an ever increasing ocean of mutually incompatible (and perhaps even incommensurable) alternatives, each single theory, each fairy tale, each myth that is part of the collection forcing the others into greater articulation and all of them contributing, via this process of competition to the development of our consciousness." - Paul Feyerabend, fully Paul Karl Feyerabend

"The dispute between the theory of a predestined future and the theory of a free future is an endless dispute. This is so because both theories are too literal, too rigid, too material, and the one excludes the other... The opposites are both equally wrong because the truth lies in the unification of these two opposite understandings into one whole. At any given moment all the future of the world is predestined and existing - provided no new factor comes in. And a new factor can only come in from the side of consciousness and the will resulting from it." - P.D. Ouspensky, fully Peter Demianovich Ouspensky, also Pyotr Demianovich Ouspenskii, also Uspenskii or Uspensky

"The great difficulty in philosophy is to come to every question with a mind fresh and unshackled by former theories, though strengthened by exercise and information." - William Hazlitt

"I am more fond of achieving than striving. My theories must prove to be facts or be discarded as worthless. My efforts must soon be crowned with success, or discontinued. " - Carolyn Wells

"It is a fundamental truth that the responsibilities of motherhood cannot be successfully delegated. No, not to day-care centers, not to schools, not to nurseries, not to babysitters. We become enamored with men’s theories such as the idea of preschool training outside the home for young children. Not only does this put added pressure on the budget, but it places young children in an environment away from mother’s influence. Too often the pressure for popularity, on children and teens, places an economic burden on the income of the father, so mother feels she must go to work to satisfy her children’s needs. That decision can be most shortsighted. It is mother’s influence during the crucial formative years that forms a child’s basic character. Home is the place where a child learns faith, feels love, and thereby learns from mother’s loving example to choose righteousness. How vital are mother’s influence and teaching in the home—and how apparent when neglected!" - Ezra Taft Benson

"No one has yet been found so firm of mind and purpose as resolutely to compel himself to sweep away all theories and common notions, and to apply the understanding, thus made fair and even, to a fresh examination of particulars. Thus it happens that human knowledge, as we have it, is a mere medley and ill-digested mass, made up of much credulity and much accident, and also of the childish notions which we at first imbibed." - Francis Bacon

"As a rule we disbelieve all the facts and theories for which we have no use. " - Gustave Flaubert

"The most dangerous tendency of the modern world is the way in which bogus theories are given the force of dogma. " - Jean Daniélou

"The wise man regulates his conduct by the theories both of religion and science. But he regards these theories not as statements of ultimate fact but as art-forms." - J. B. S. Haldane, fully John Burdon Sanderson Haldane

"Philosophy, like science, consists of theories or insights arrived at as a result of systemic reflection or reasoning in regard to the data of experience. It involves, therefore, the analysis of experience and the synthesis of the results of analysis into a comprehensive or unitary conception. Philosophy seeks a totality and harmony of reasoned insight into the nature and meaning of all the principal aspects of reality." - Joseph Alexander Leighton

"Theories without facts may be barren, but facts without theories are meaningless." - Kenneth Boulding, fully Kenneth Ewart Boulding

"Many writers upon the science of political economy have declared that it is the duty of a nation first to encourage the creation of wealth; and second, to direct and control its distribution. All such theories are delusive. " - Leland Stanford, fully Amasa Leland Stanford

"Another instance of a realization that the superstitious belief in progress is insufficient as a guide to life, was my brother's death. Wise, good, serious, he fell ill while still a young man, suffered for more than a year, and died painfully, not understanding why he had lived and still less why he had to die. No theories could give me, or him, any reply to these questions during his slow and painful dying." - Leo Tolstoy, aka Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy or Tolstoi

"The continuity of our science has not been affected by all these turbulent happenings, as the older theories have always been included as limiting cases in the new ones." - Max Born

"There's no thinking involved in my choreography... I don't work through images or ideas. I work through the body... If the dancer dances, which is not the same as having theories about dancing or wishing to dance or trying to dance, everything is there. When I dance, it means: this is what I am doing." - Merce Cunningham, born Mercier Philip Cunningham

"Anachronistic as this labyrinthine mythology may appear to the foreign mind, many of India’s ancient theories about the universe are startlingly modern in scope and worthy of a people who are credited with the invention of the zero, as well as algebra and its application of astronomy and geometry; a people who so carefully observed the heavens that, in the opinion of Monier-Williams, they determined the moon’s synodical revolution much more correctly than the Greeks." - Nancy Wilson Ross

"THEORY: In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses. The contention that evolution should be taught as a "theory, not as a fact" confuses the common use of these words with the scientific use. In science, theories do not turn into facts through the accumulation of evidence. Rather, theories are the end points of science. They are understandings that develop from extensive observation, experimentation, and creative reflection. They incorporate a large body of scientific facts, laws, tested hypotheses, and logical inferences. In this sense, evolution is one of the strongest and most useful scientific theories we have." - National Academy of Sciences NULL

"No theory ever agrees with all the facts in its domain, yet it is not always the theory that is to blame. Facts are constituted by older ideologies, and a clash between facts and theories may be proof of progress. It is also a first step in our attempt to find the principles implicit in familiar observational notions. " - Paul Feyerabend, fully Paul Karl Feyerabend

"Facts are constituted by older ideologies, and a clash between facts and theories may be proof of progress." - Paul Feyerabend, fully Paul Karl Feyerabend

"Not only are facts and theories in constant disharmony, they are never as neatly separated as everyone makes them out to be." - Paul Feyerabend, fully Paul Karl Feyerabend

"Progress was often achieved by a "criticism from the past"... After Aristotle and Ptolemy, the idea that the earth moves - that strange, ancient, and "entirely ridiculous", Pythagorean view was thrown on the rubbish heap of history, only to be revived by Copernicus and to be forged by him into a weapon for the defeat of its defeaters. The Hermetic writings played an important part in this revival, which is still not sufficiently understood, and they were studied with care by the great Newton himself. Such developments are not surprising. No idea is ever examined in all its ramifications and no view is ever given all the chances it deserves. Theories are abandoned and superseded by more fashionable accounts long before they have had an opportunity to show their virtues. Besides, ancient doctrines and "primitive" myths appear strange and nonsensical only because their scientific content is either not known, or is distorted by philologists or anthropologists unfamiliar with the simplest physical, medical or astronomical knowledge." - Paul Feyerabend, fully Paul Karl Feyerabend

"The material which a scientist actually has at his disposal, his laws, his experimental results, his mathematical techniques, his epistemological prejudices, his attitude towards the absurd consequences of the theories which he accepts, is indeterminate in many ways, ambiguous, and never fully separated from the historical background. This material is always contaminated by principles which he does not know and which, if known, would be extremely hard to test." - Paul Feyerabend, fully Paul Karl Feyerabend

"We have to realize that a unified theory of the physical world simply does not exist. We have theories that work in restricted regions, we have purely formal attempts to condense them into a single formula, we have lots of unfounded claims (such as the claim that all of chemistry can be reduced to physics), phenomena that do not fit into the accepted framework are suppressed; in physics, which many scientists regard as the one really basic science, we have now at least three different point of view (relativity, dealing with the very large, quantum theory for an intermediate domain and various particle models for the very small) without a promise of conceptual (and not only formal) unification; perceptions are outside of the material universe (the mind-body problem is still unsolved) - from the very beginning the salesman of a universal truth cheated people into admissions instead of clearly arguing for their philosophy. And let us not forget that it was they and not the representatives of the traditions they attacked who introduced argument as the one and only universal arbiter. They praised argument - they constantly violated its principles." - Paul Feyerabend, fully Paul Karl Feyerabend

"Commitment to the truth… means a relentless willingness to root out the ways we limit or deceive ourselves from seeing what is, and to continually challenge our theories of why things are the way they are. It means continually broadening our awareness. It also means continually deepening our understanding of the structures underlying current events." - Peter Senge, fully Peter Michael Senge