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Against Excessive Skepticism: Collected Quotes

Weird Science

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"I am not very skeptical... a good deal of skepticism in a scientific man
is advisable to avoid much loss of time, but I have met not a few men,
who... have often thus been deterred from experiments or observations
which would have proven servicable." - Charles Darwin

"Round about the accredited and orderly facts of every science there
ever floats a sort of dust-cloud of exceptional observations, of
occurrences minute and irregular and seldom met with, which it always
proves more easy to ignore than to attend to... Anyone will renovate his
science who will steadily look after the irregular phenomena, and when
science is renewed, its new formulas often have more of the voice of the
exceptions in them than of what were supposed to be the rules."
- William James

"I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the
greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most
obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of
conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which
they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by
thread, into the fabric of their lives." -Tolstoy

"It is really quite amazing by what margins competent but conservative
scientists and engineers can miss the mark, when they start with the
preconceived idea that what they are investigating is impossible. When
this happens, the most well-informed men become blinded by their
prejudices and are unable to see what lies directly ahead of them."
- Arthur C. Clarke, 1963

"When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from
childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible
for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately,
and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem
to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I
could do it myself." - Mark Twain

"Doubt everything or believe everything: these are two equally
convenient strategies. With either we dispense with the need for
reflection." - Henri Poincare

"It is not uncommon for engineers to accept the reality of phenomena
that are not yet understood, as it is very common for physicists to
disbelieve the reality of phenomena that seem to contradict contemporary
beliefs of physics" - H. Bauer

"If a man is in too big a hurry to give up an error he is liable to
give up some truth with it." - Wilbur Wright, 1902

"It's like religion. Heresy [in science] is thought of as a bad thing,
whereas it should be just the opposite." - Dr. Thomas Gold

"You can get into a habit of thought in which you enjoy making fun of
all those other people who don't see things as clearly as you do. We
have to guard carefully against it." - Carl Sagan, 1987 CSICOP meeting

"New and stirring things are belittled because if they are not belittled,
the humiliating question arises, 'Why then are you not taking part in
them?' " - H. G. Wells

"The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly
teaches me to suspect that my own is also." - Mark Twain

"I believe there is no source of deception in the investigation of
nature which can compare with a fixed belief that certain kinds of
phenomena are IMPOSSIBLE." -William James

"Modern science should indeed arouse in all of us a humility before the
immensity of the unexplored and a tolerance for crazy hypotheses."
-Martin Gardner

"Almost all really new ideas have a certain aspect of foolishness when
they are first produced." - Alfred North Whitehead

"The mind likes a strange idea as little as the body likes a strange
protein and resists it with similar energy. It would not perhaps be
too fanciful to say that a new idea is the most quickly acting antigen
known to science." - Wilfred Trotter, 1941

"When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is
possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something
is impossible, he is very probably wrong."
- Arthur C. Clarke's First Law

"There are some people that if they don't know, you can't tell 'em."
- Louis Armstrong

"The security provided by a long-held belief system, even when poorly
founded, is a strong impediment to progress. General acceptance of a
practice becomes the proof of its validity, though it lacks all other
merit." - Dr. B. Lown, invented defibrillator

"The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever
that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the
majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish
than sensible." - Bertrand Russell

"New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any
other reason but because they are not already common." - John Locke

"All great truths begin as blasphemies." - George Bernard Shaw

"Be not astonished at new ideas; for it is well known to you that a
thing does not therefore cease to be true because it is not accepted
by many." - Spinoza

"If we watch ourselves honestly we shall often find that we have begun to
argue against a new idea even before it has been completely stated."
- Wilfred Trotter

"When a man finds a conclusion agreeable, he accepts it without argument,
but when he finds it disagreeable, he will bring against it all the
forces of logic and reason." -Thucydides

"It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday
is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow." - Robert Goddard

"Science might be better served when some scientists generate novel
ideas while others carp at everything new, than if all scientists could
somehow become disinterestedly skeptical." Dr. Henry H. Bauer

"'Type one' error is thinking that something special is happening when
nothing special really is happening. 'Type two' error is thinking that
nothing special is happening, when in fact something rare or infrequent
is happening.' -M. Truzzi

"I ask you, which is the greater threat to science and mankind,
accepting a claim that can have no possible benefit, or rejecting a
claim that can have great benefit?" -Dr. Edmund Storms

"There is nothing particularly scientific about excessive caution.
Science thrives on daring generalizations." - L. Hogben

"What we need is not the will to believe but the will to find out."
- Bertrand Russell

"Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible."
- M. C. Escher

"It would seem to me... an offense against nature, for us to come on the
same scene endowed as we are with the curiosity, filled to overbrimming
as we are with questions, and naturally talented as we are for the
asking of clear questions, and then for us to do nothing about, or
worse, to try to suppress the questions..." -Lewis Thomas

"Only a fool of a scientist would dismiss the evidence and reports
in front of him and substitute his own beliefs in their place."
- Paul Kurtz

"Many discoveries must have been stillborn or smothered at birth. We
know only those which survived."

"The creative person pays close attention to what appears discordant and
contradictory... and is challenged by such irregularities." - F. Barron

"Genius in truth means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an
unhabitual way" - William James, 1896

"What is there that confers the noblest delight? What is that which
swells a man's breast with pride above that which any other experience
can bring to him? Discovery! To know that you are walking where none
others have walked..." - Mark Twain

"Man's greatest asset is the unsettled mind." - Isaac Asimov

"The voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new horizons, but in seeing
with new eyes." - Marcel Proust

"Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what
nobody else has thought." - Albert Szent-Gyoergi

"A man receives only what he is ready to receive... The phenomenon or
fact that cannot in any wise be linked with the rest of what he has
observed, he does not observe. - H. D. Thoreau

"You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus."
- Mark Twain

"The man who cannot occasionally imagine events and conditions of
existence that are contrary to the causal principle as he knows it will
never enrich his science by the addition of a new idea." - Max Planck

"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research,
would it?" --Albert Einstein

"If what we regard as real depends on our theory, how can we make
reality the basis of our philosophy? ...But we cannot distinguish
what is real about the universe without a theory...it makes no sense
to ask if it corresponds to reality, because we do not know what
reality is independent of a theory." - Stephen Hawking

"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."
- Phillip K. Dick

"There are children playing in the street who could solve some of my top
problems in physics, because they have modes of sensory perception that
I lost long ago." - Robert Oppenheimer

"The discovery of truth is prevented more effectively not by the false
appearance of things present and which mislead into error, not directly
by weakness of the reasoning powers, but by preconceived opinion, by
prejudice." - Schopenhauer

"It is a puzzling thing. The truth knocks on the door and you say, 'Go
away, I'm looking for the truth.' and so it goes away. Puzzling."
- R. Pirsig

"They are ill discoverers that think there is no land when they see
nothing but sea." - Francis Bacon

"The universe is wider than our views of it." - Henry David Thoreau

"Everyone takes the limits of his own vision for the limits of the
world." - Arthur Schopenhauer

"Who never walks save where he sees men's tracks makes no discoveries."
- J.G. Holland

"In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the
humble reasoning of a single individual." - Galileo Galilei

"It is as fatal as it is cowardly to blink facts because they are not to
our taste." - John Tyndall

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." - Emerson

"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."
- Sir Martin Rees (astronomer)

"I can't see any farther. Giants are standing on my shoulders!"
- unknown

"In science it often happens that scientists say, "You know that's a
really good argument; my position is mistaken," and then they would
actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them
again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should,
because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it
happens every day. I cannot recall the last time someting like that
happened in politics or religion." -Carl Sagan

"When I examined myself and my methods of thought, I came to the
conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent
for absorbing positive knowledge." - A. Einstein

"All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point
is to discover them." - Galileo Galilei

"Advances are made by answering questions. Discoveries are made by
questioning answers." - Bernhard Haisch, astrophysicist

"The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best -- and
therefore never scrutinize or question." -Stephen Jay Gould

"It is a good morning exercise for a research scientist to discard a pet
hypothesis every day before breakfast. It keeps him young."
- Konrad Lorenz

"Inquiry is fatal to certainty." - William J. Durant

"In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"There is no better soporific and sedative than skepticism." -Nietzche

"...By far the most usual way of handling phenomena so novel that they
would make for a serious rearrangement of our preconceptions is to
ignore them altogether, or to abuse those who bear witness for them."
- William James

"The pressure for conformity is enormous. I have experienced it in
editors rejection of submitted papers, based on venomous criticism of
anonymous referees. The replacement of impartial reviewing by
censorship will be the death of science." -Julian Schwinger, physicist

"When adults first become conscious of something new, they usually
either attack or try to escape from it... Attack includes such mild
forms as ridicule, and escape includes merely putting out of mind."
- W. I. B Beveridge, The Art of Sci. Investigation, 1950

"New ideas are always criticized - not because an idea lacks merit, but
because it might turn out to be workable, which would threaten the
reputations of many people whose opinions conflict with it. Some people
may even lose their jobs." - physicist, requested anonymity

"All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed; Second,
it is violently opposed; and Third, it is accepted as self-evident."
- Arthur Schopenhauer

"Theories have four stages of acceptance: i) this is worthless nonsense;
ii) this is an interesting, but perverse, point of view; iii) this is
true, but quite unimportant; iv) I always said so.
-J.B.S. Haldane, 1963

"When a thing is new, people say: 'It is not true.' Later, when its
truth becomes obvious, they say: 'It is not important.' Finally, when
its importance cannot be denied, they say: 'Anyway, it is not new.'"
- William James, 1896

"The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out the
conservative adopts them." - Mark Twain

"To imagine that turmoil is in the past and somehow we are now in a more
stable time seems to be a psychological need." - geologist E. Moores

"The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the
status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the
greatest pain is the pain of a new idea." - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human
soul." - Mark Twain

"No Pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to
an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit"
- Helen Keller

"A danger sign of the lapse from true skepticism in to dogmatism is an
inability to respect those who disagree" - Dr. Leonard George

"We should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression
of opinions that we loathe." - Oliver Wendell Holmes

"If I want to stop a research program I can always do it by getting a few
experts to sit in on the subject, because they know right away that it
was a fool thing to try in the first place." - Charles Kettering, GM

"If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you.
You become a crotchety old person convinced that nonsense is ruling the
world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.) But every now
and then, a new idea turns out to be on the mark, valid and wonderful.
If you are too much in the habit of being skeptical about everything,
you are going to miss or resent it, and either way you will be standing
in the way of understanding and progress. " - Carl Sagan

"There is a very important distinction between a critical attitude of
mind (or critical "faculty") and a sceptical attitude." - W. Beveridge

"In philosophical discussion, the merest hint of dogmatic certainty
as to finality of statement is an exhibition of folly." - Whitehead

"There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which
cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance--that principle is
contempt prior to investigation." - Herbert Spencer, British philosopher

"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one
begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit
facts." - Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

"Now, my suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we
suppose, but queerer than we can suppose... I suspect that there are
more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of, in any philosophy"
- J.B.S. Haldane

"The farther the experiment is from theory, the closer it is to the Nobel
Prize." - Joliet-Curie

"There are two possible outcomes: If the result confirms the hypothesis,
then you've made a measurement. If the result is contrary to the
hypothesis, then you've made a discovery." -Enrico Fermi

"Daring ideas are like chessmen moved forward; they may be defeated, but
they start a winning game." - Goethe

"If we will only allow that, as we progress, we remain unsure, we will
leave opportunities for alternatives. We will not become enthusiastic
for the fact, the knowledge, the absolute truth of the day, but remain
always uncertain... In order to make progress, one must leave the door
to the unknown ajar." - Richard Feynman

"As long as we do science, some things will always remain unexplained."
- Fritjof Capra

"The philosophies of one age have become the absurdities of the next,
and the foolishness of yesterday has become the wisdom of tomorrow."
- Sir William Osler

"The altar cloth of one aeon is the doormat of the next."
-Mark Twain

"Perhaps the only thing that saves science from invalid conventional
wisdom that becomes effectively permanent is the presence of mavericks
in every generation - people who keep challenging convention and
thinking up new ideas for the sheer hell of it or from an innate
contrariness." - Dr. D. M. Raup, Paleontologist, U. Chicago.

"One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our science, measured
against reality, is primitive and childlike - and yet it is the most
precious thing we have." - Einstein

"We do not understand much of anything, from... the "big bang" , all the
way down to the particles in the atoms of a bacterial cell. We have a
wilderness of mystery to make our way through in the centuries ahead."
-Lewis Thomas

"There is no natural phenomenon that is comparable with the sudden
and apparently accidentally timed development of science, except
perhaps the condensation of a super-saturated gas or the explosion of
some unpredictable explosives." - Eugene P. Wigner

"Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet. Then all
things are at risk. It is as when a conflagration has broken out in a
great city, and no man knows what is safe, or where it will end."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't." - Mark Twain

"Nothing is too wonderful to be true if it be consistent with the laws of
nature." - Michael Faraday

"The love of the marvellous is the most dangerous enemy of natural
science." - minerologist Eugene de Patrin, said in 1802 while dismissing
reports of meteorites.

"The skeptic will say, 'It may well be true that this system of
equations is reasonable from a logical standpoint, but this does not
prove that it corresponds to nature.' You are right, dear skeptic.
Experience alone can decide on truth. - Albert Einstein

Unnamed Law: If it happens, it must be possible.

"I have steadily endeavored to keep my mind free so as to give up any
hypothesis, however much beloved (and I cannot resist forming one on
every subject), as soon as the facts are shown to be opposed to it."
- Charles Darwin

"I love fools' experiments, I am always making them." - Darwin

"It is a fool's prerogative to utter truths that no one else will speak."
- Shakespeare

"The whole of science consists of data that, at one time or another, were
inexplicable." - B. O'Regan

"Name the greatest of all the inventors. Accident." -Mark Twain

"May every young scientist remember... and not fail to keep his eyes
open for the possibility, that an irritating failure of his apparatus
to give consistent results may once or twice in a lifetime conceal an
important discovery." - P. Blackett

"My advice to those who which to learn the art of scientific prophesy
is not to rely on abstract reason, but to decipher the secret language
of Nature from Nature's documents: the facts of experience." - Max Born

"The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not
understand." - Frank Herbert

"In any field, find the strangest thing and then explore it."
- John A. Wheeler

"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new
discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny...' "
- Isaac Asimov

"The only solid piece of scientific truth about which I feel totally
confident is that we are profoundly ignorant about nature... It is this
sudden confrontation with the depth and scope of ignorance that
represents the most significant contribution of twentieth-century
science to the human intellect." - Lewis Thomas

"The end of our exploring will be to arrive at where we started, and to
know the place for the first time." - T.S. Eliot

"Sit down before facts like a child, and be prepared to give up every
preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses
Nature leads, or you shall learn nothing." - T.H. Huxley

"Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged
to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't." - Mark Twain

"Let the mind be enlarged... to the grandeur of the mysteries, and not
the mysteries contracted to the narrowness of the mind" - Francis Bacon

"Man's mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original
dimension." - Oliver Wendell Holmes

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two
opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to
function." - F. Scott Fitzgerald

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought
without accepting it." -Aristotle

"I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is
much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that
might be wrong." - Richard Feynman

"You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within
himself." - Galileo

"The high-minded man must care more for the truth than for what people
think." - Aristotle

"In real life, every field of science is incomplete, and most of them
- whatever the record of accomplisment during the last 200 years - are
still in their very earliest stages." - Lewis Thomas

"There are many hypotheses in science which are wrong. That's perfectly
all right; they're the aperture to finding out what's right.
- Carl Sagan

"I personally feel it is presumptuous to believe that man can determine
the whole temporal structure of the universe, its evolution,
development and ultimate fate from the first nanosecond of creation to
the last 10^10 years, on the basis of three or four facts which are not
very accurately known and are disputed among the experts."
- J. Bahcall, senior astrophysicist, Institute for Advanced Study

"On any Tuesday morning, if asked, a good working scientist will tell
you with some self-satisfaction that the affairs of his field are
nicely in order, that things are finally looking clear and making
sense, and all is well. But come back again on another Tuesday, and
the roof may have just fallen in on his life's work." -Lewis Thomas

"Science for me is very close to art. Scientific discovery is an
irrational act. It's an intuition which turns out to be reality at the
end of it --and I see no difference between a scientist developing a
marvellous discovery and an artist making a painting." - C. Rubbia,
Nobelist and director of CERN

"It is through science that we prove, but through intuition that we
discover." - H. Poincare

"Science... is part and parcel of our knowledge and obscures our
insight only when it holds that the understanding given by it is the
only kind there is." - C.G. Jung

"The person who thinks there can be any real conflict between science and
religion must be either very young in science or very ignorant of
religion." - Joseph Henry, early American physicist

"Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound
source of spirituality." - Carl Sagan

"Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind."
-Albert Einstein

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful
servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has
forgotten the gift." - Albert Einstein

"If you restrict the journal to publishing only what pleases the
referees, you end up publishing what is popular, and while it does make
everyone feel more comfortable, you are guaranteed to miss the
occasional breakthrough." - A. Dessler, Editor, Geophysical Research
Letters, (regarding small-comet bombardment of Earth.)

"No matter how we may single out a complex from nature...its
theoretical treatment will never prove to be ultimately conclusive... I
believe that this process of deepening of theory has no limits."
- Albert Einstein, 1917

"Biologists can be just as sensitive to heresy as theologians."
- H.G. Wells

"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and
making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually
die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." - M. Planck

"Science advances funeral by funeral." (Planck?)

"When the human race has once acquired a supersitition, nothing short of
death is ever likely to remove it." - Mark Twain

"You can recognize a pioneer by the arrows in his back." - Beverly Rubik

"If the man doesn't believe as we do, we say he is a crank, and that
settles it. I mean, it does nowadays, because now we can't burn him."
- Mark Twain

"Scientists are not the paragons of rationality, objectivity,
openmindedness and humility that many of them might like others to
believe." - Marcello Truzzi, CSICOP

"The common idea that scientists reject a theory as soon as it leads to a
contradiction is just not so. When they get something that works at
all they plunge ahead with it and ignore its weak spots... scientists
are just as bad as the rest of the public in following fads and being
influenced by mass enthusiasm." - Vannevar Bush

"Once a new paradigm takes hold, its acceptance is extraordinarily rapid
and one finds few who claim to have adhered to a discarded method."
- Dr. B. Lown, inventor of the modern defibrillator

"For every expert, there is an equal and opposite expert." - anon

"One could not be a successful scientist without realizing that, in
contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers
of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded
and dull, but also just stupid."
-- J. D. Watson "The Double Helix"

As a whole, parapsychologists are nice, honest people, while the critics
are cynical, nasty people" - Ray Hyman, skeptical scientist, 1987

"Desire for approval and recognition is a healthy motive, but the desire
to be acknowledged as better, stronger, or more intelligent than a
fellow being or fellow scholar easily leads to an excessively egoistic
psychological adjustment, which may become injurious for the individual
and for the community." - Albert Einstein

"Science is the search for truth - it is not a game in which one tries to
beat his opponent, to do harm to others." - Linus Pauling

"A man with a new idea is a crank until he succeeds." - M. Twain

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are that
good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." - Howard Aiken

"Physical concepts are the free creations of the human mind and are not,
however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world."
- Einstein/Infeld in "The Evolution of Physics" 1938

"A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can
be stabbed to death by a joke, or worried to death by a frown on the
right person's brow." - Charles Brower

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely
rearranging their prejudices." - William James

"If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you; but if you
really make them think they'll hate you." - Don Marquis

"We must care to think about the unthinkable things, because when things
become unthinkable, thinking stops and action becomes mindless."
- James W. Fulbright

"Wisest is she who knows she does not know." -anon

"The only means of strengthening one's intellect is to make up one's
mind about nothing -- to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all
thoughts. Not a select party." - John Keats

"There is nothing so absurd that it cannot be believed as truth if
repeated often enough." -William James

"A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth." - G. Goebbels

"Never attribute to conspiracy that which is adequately explained by
stupidity." - paraphrase of "Hanlon's Razor" (fm R. Heinlein)

What I don't understand I despise, what I despise I reject.

"Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible."
- Frank Zappa

"My friends they were dancing here in the streets of Huntsville when our
first satellite orbited the Earth. They were dancing again when the
first Americans landed on the moon. I'd like to ask you, don't hang up
your dancing slippers. " - Wernher von Braun

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