Quotations about   theory

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Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can — if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong — to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition. In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.

Richard Feynman (1918-1988) American physicist
“Cargo Cult Science,” commencement address, California Institute of Technology (1974)
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Added on 22-Jan-20 | Last updated 22-Jan-20
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So we have to make guesses in order to give any utility at all to science. In order to avoid simply describing experiments that have been done, we have to propose laws beyond their observed range. There is nothing wrong with that, despite the fact that it makes science uncertain. If you thought before that science was certain — well, that is just an error on your part.

Richard Feynman (1918-1988) American physicist
The Character of Physical Law, ch. 3 “The Great Conservation Principles” (1965)
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Added on 10-Jan-20 | Last updated 10-Jan-20
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When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?

John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) English economist
(Attributed)

Reply to a criticism of having changed his position on monetary policy. Quoted in Paul Samuelson, "The Keynes Centenary" The Economist, Vol. 287 (1983), but possibly apocryphal (see here).
Added on 21-Mar-17 | Last updated 24-Mar-17
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No facts are to me sacred; none are profane; I simply experiment, an endless seeker, with no Past at my back.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Circles,” Essays: First Series (1841)
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Added on 13-Feb-17 | Last updated 13-Feb-17
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As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents.

orwell-worst-advertisement-for-socialism-wist_info-quote

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
The Road to Wigan Pier, ch. 11 (1937)
Added on 30-Sep-16 | Last updated 30-Sep-16
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Was I to believe him in earnest in his intention to penetrate to the centre of this massive globe? Had I been listening to the mad speculations of a lunatic, or to the scientific conclusions of a lofty genius? Where did truth stop? Where did error begin?

Jules Verne (1828-1905) French novelist, poet, playwright
Journey to the Center of the Earth, ch. 7 “A Woman’s Courage” (1864) [tr. Malleson]
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Added on 1-Jul-16 | Last updated 1-Jul-16
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In fact, the mere act of opening the box will determine the state of the cat, although in this case there were three determinate states the cat could be in: these being Alive, Dead, and Bloody Furious.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Lords and Ladies (1992)
Added on 12-Aug-15 | Last updated 12-Aug-15
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Theories are only verified hypotheses, verified by more or less numerous facts. Those verified by the most facts are the best, but even then they are never final, never to be absolutely believed.

Claude Bernard (1813-1878) French physiologist, scientist
An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine [Introduction à l’Étude de la Médecine Expérimentale] (1865)
Added on 23-Jan-15 | Last updated 23-Jan-15
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When we meet a fact which contradicts a prevailing theory, we must accept the fact and abandon the theory, even when the theory is supported by great names and generally accepted.

Claude Bernard (1813-1878) French physiologist, scientist
An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine [Introduction à l’Étude de la Médecine Expérimentale] (1865)
Added on 16-Jan-15 | Last updated 16-Jan-15
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I suppose the process of acceptance will pass through the usual four stages:
1. This is worthless nonsense,
2. This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view,
3. This is true, but quite unimportant,
4. I always said so.

J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) English geneticist [John Burden Sanderson Haldane]
“The Truth About Death,” Journal of Genetics, Vol. 58, page 464 (1963)
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Review of The Chester Beatty Research Institute Serially Abridged Life Tables, England and Wales, 1841-1960. Referring to the stages a scientific theory goes through.
Added on 6-Oct-14 | Last updated 6-Oct-14
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I like the scientific spirit — the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine — it always keeps the way beyond open.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) American poet
Remark to the author (4 May 1888), Horace Traubel, Walt Whitman’s Camden Conversations [ed. W. Teller (1973)]
Added on 12-Feb-14 | Last updated 12-Feb-14
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I have argued flying saucers with lots of people. … I was interested in this: they keep arguing that it is possible. And that’s true. It is possible. They do not appreciate that the problem is not to demonstrate whether it’s possible or not, but whether it’s going on or not. Whether it’s probably occurring or not, not whether it could occur.

Richard Feynman (1918-1988) American physicist
The Meaning of It All (1998)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 10-Jan-20
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The inexperienced, and crackpots, and people like that, make guesses that are simple, but you can immediately see that they are wrong, so that does not count. Others, the inexperienced students, make guesses that are very complicated, and it sort of looks as if it is all right, but I know it is not true because the truth always turns out to be simpler than you thought.

Richard Feynman (1918-1988) American physicist
The Character of Physical Law, ch 7 “Seeking New Laws” (1965)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 10-Jan-20
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