Tag Archives: science

Quotations about science and the scientific method

Tim Minchin – Thinking the arts and sciences are at odds

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Please don’t make the mistake of thinking the arts and sciences are at odds with one another. That is a recent, stupid, and damaging idea. You don’t have to be unscientific to make beautiful art, to write beautiful things.

If you need proof: Twain, Adams, Vonnegut, McEwen, Sagan, Shakespeare, Dickens. For a start.

You don’t need to be superstitious to be a poet. You don’t need to hate GM technology to care about the beauty of the planet. You don’t have to claim a soul to promote compassion.

Science is not a body of knowledge nor a system of belief; it is just a term which describes humankind’s incremental acquisition of understanding through observation. Science is awesome.

Tim Minchin  

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Bertrand Russell – In science the man of real genius

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Bertrand RussellIn science the man of real genius is the man who invents a new method. The notable discoveries are often made by his successors, who can apply the method with fresh vigor, unimpaired by the previous labor of perfecting it; but the mental caliber of the thought required for their work, however brilliant, is not so great as that required by the first inventor of the method.

Bertrand Russell   (1872-1970)

Richard Feynman – No government has the right

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Richard FeynmanNo government has the right to decide on the truth of scientific principles, nor to prescribe in any way the character of the questions investigated. Neither may a government determine the aesthetic value of artistic creations, nor limit the forms of literary or artistic expression. Nor should it pronounce on the validity of economic, historic, religious, or philosophical doctrines. Instead it has a duty to its citizens to maintain the freedom, to let those citizens contribute to the further adventure and the development of the human race.

Richard Feynman   (1918-1988)

Michael Crichton – The work of science has nothing to do with consensus

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Michael CrichtonLet’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

Michael Crichton  

Bertrand Russell – The kernel of the scientific outlook

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Bertrand RussellThe kernel of the scientific outlook is a thing so simple, so obvious, so seemingly trivial, that the mention of it may almost excite derision. The kernel of the scientific outlook is the refusal to regard our own desires, tastes, and interests as affording a key to the understanding of the world. Stated thus baldly, this may seem no more than a trite truism. But to remember it consistently in matters arousing our passionate partisanship is by no means easy, especially where the available evidence is uncertain and inconclusive.

Bertrand Russell   (1872-1970)

Sigmund Freud – It sounds like a fairy-tale

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Sigmund FreudIt sounds like a fairy-tale, but not only that; this story of what man by his science and practical inventions has achieved on this earth, where he first appeared as a weakly member of the animal kingdom, and on which each individual of his species must ever again appear as a helpless infant… is a direct fulfillment of all, or of most, of the dearest wishes in his fairy-tales. All these possessions he has acquired through culture. Long ago he formed an ideal conception of omnipotence and omniscience which he embodied in his gods. Whatever seemed unattainable to his desires – or forbidden to him – he attributed to these gods.

One may say, therefore, that these gods were the ideals of his culture. Now he has himself approached very near to realizing this ideal, he has nearly become a god himself. But only, it is true, in the way that ideals are usually realized in the general experience of humanity. Not completely; in some respects not at all, in others only by halves.

Man has become a god by means of artificial limbs, so to speak, quite magnificent when equipped with all his accessory organs; but they do not grow on him and they still give him trouble at times… Future ages will produce further great advances in this realm of culture, probably inconceivable now, and will increase man’s likeness to a god still more.

Sigmund Freud   (1856-1939)

Carl Sagan – Humans crave absolute certainty

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Carl SaganHumans may crave absolute certainty; they may aspire to it; they may pretend, as partisans of certain religions do, to have attained it. But the history of science — by far the most successful claim to knowledge accessible to humans teaches that the most we can hope for is successive improvement in our understanding, learning from our mistakes, an asymptotic approach to the Universe, but with the proviso that absolute certainty will always elude us. We will always be mired in error. The most each generation can hope for is to reduce the error bars a little, and to add to the body of data to which error bars apply.

Carl Sagan   (1934-1996)
The Demon-Haunted World

John Ziman – Scientific papers; small pieces in a grander scheme

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John ZimanAlthough the best and most famous scientific discoveries seem to open whole new windows of the mind, a typical scientific paper has never pretended to be more than another piece in a large jig-saw; not significant in itself but as an element in a grander scheme. This technique, of soliciting many modest contributions to the vast store of human knowledge, has been the secret of western science since the seventeenth century, for it achieves a corporate collective power that is far greater than any one individual can exert. Primary scientific papers are not meant to be final statements of indisputable truths; each is merely a tiny tentative step forward, through the jungle of ignorance.

John Ziman   (1925-2005)
Nature, vol. 224