Collected Quotes


All scientific work is, of course, based on some conscious or subconscious philosophical attitude.

Werner Heisenberg

Never swallow anything whole. We live perforce by half-truths and get along fairly well as long as we do not mistake them for whole-truths, but when we do so mistake them, they raise the devil with us.

Alfred North Whitehead, Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead

If you ‘understand’ something in only one way, then you scarcely understand it at all—because when you get stuck, you’ll have nowhere to go. But if you represent something in several ways, then when you get frustrated enough, you can switch among different points of view, until you find one that works for you!

Marvin Minsky, The Emotion Machine

To have a great idea, have a lot of them.

— Thomas Edison

Results? Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward.

— Thomas Edison

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!', but 'That's funny ...'

— Isaac Asimov

The pages of the history of science record thousands of instances of similar discoveries having been made by scientists working independently of one another. Sometimes the discoveries are simultaneous or almost so; sometimes a scientist will make anew a discovery which, unknown to him, somebody else had made years before. Such occurrences suggest that discoveries become virtually inevitable when prerequisite kinds of knowledge and tools accumulate in man's cultural store and when the attention of an appreciable number of investigators becomes focussed on a problem, by emerging social needs, by developments internal to the science, or by both.

Robert Merton, Resistance to the Systematic Study of Multiple Discoveries in Science

Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you've not fooled yourself, it's easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.

Richard Feynman, Caltech commencement address, 1974

Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt.

Richard Feynman

It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong.

Richard Feynman

Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.

Arthur Stanley Eddington

One may say the eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility.

Albert Einstein

One thing I have learned in a long life: All our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike — and yet it is the most precious thing we have.

Albert Einstein

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

Isaac Newton

It seems safe to say that significant discovery, really creative thinking, does not occur with regard to problems about which the thinker is lukewarm.

Mary Henle

Art is uniquely well designed as a Darwinian system for producing new variations. It is not well designed to generate useful ideas. ... Art offers a system of "unnatural" variation. ... Art may produce results not directly useful except in terms of mattering to other humans, but in a species as highly social as ours this itself makes a difference. ... If art is "unnatural" variation, science is "unnatural" selection. ... It tests ideas not against human preferences but against a resistant world, and its methods of testing, by logic, observation, and experiment, encourage us to reject ideas that seem self-evident and apparently repeatedly confirmed by tradition.

Brian Boyd, On the Origin of Stories

Never tackle a problem of which you can be pretty sure that (now or in the near future) it will be tackled by others who are, in relation to that problem, at least as competent and well-equipped as you.

Edsger W. Dijkstra

Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.

Edsger W. Dijkstra

Since all models are wrong the scientist cannot obtain a "correct" one by excessive elaboration. On the contrary following William of Occam he should seek an economical description of natural phenomena. Just as the ability to devise simple but evocative models is the signature of the great scientist so overelaboration and overparameterization is often the mark of mediocrity.

George Box

Now it would be very remarkable if any system existing in the real world could be exactly represented by any simple model. However, cunningly chosen parsimonious models often do provide remarkably useful approximations. For example, the law PV = RT relating pressure P, volume V and temperature T of an "ideal" gas via a constant R is not exactly true for any real gas, but it frequently provides a useful approximation and furthermore its structure is informative since it springs from a physical view of the behavior of gas molecules. For such a model there is no need to ask the question "Is the model true?". If "truth" is to be the "whole truth" the answer must be "No". The only question of interest is "Is the model illuminating and useful?".

George Box

The map is not the territory.

Alfred Korzybski

Vito AcconciCity of Words