Philosophical musings


"To know one's ignorance is the better part of knowledge."
Lao Zi
, Tao Te Ching, no. 71.


Rely on one's own idea and not on the orders of nature, then every effort will be futile.
Jia Si Xie, Qi Min Yao Shu (Essential Techniques for the Peasantry), a 6th century Chinese agricultural encyclopedia.


it would be difficult, not to say impossible, to draw a natural line between the activities of the human tribes which presumably fitted into and formed parts of "biotic communities" and the destructive human activities of the modern world.
Sir Arthur George Tansley (1871 - 1955) in Tansley (1935)

 

All human situations have their inconveniences. We feel those of the present but neither see nor feel those of the future; and hence we often make troublesome changes without amendment, and frequently for the worse.
Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790)


Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.
Karl Marx (1818 - 1883) in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852)


What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.
Werner Heisenberg (1901 - 1976)


If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.
Lord William Thomson Kelvin (1824 - 1907)


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.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


 "It is better to have an approximate answer to the right question than an exact answer to the wrong one."
John Tukey
(1915 - 2000)


 "Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unfore seen effects which only too often cancel the first..."
Friedrich Engels
(1820 - 1895), in : The Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man (1876)


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


I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.
Umberto Eco


Irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors.
Thomas H. Huxley (1825 - 1895). from The Coming of Age of The Origin of Species (1880)

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.
Voltaire


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


Mistakes are a part of being human. Appreciate your mistakes for what they are: precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way. Unless it's a fatal mistake, which, at least, others can learn from.
Al Franken


"In science and human affairs alike we lack the resources to study more than a fragment of the phenomena that might advance our knowledge."
William G. Cochran
(Sampling Techniques, 1977, Wiley), 1909 - 1980.


If you can find something everyone agrees on, it's wrong.
Mo Udall
, 1922-1998


The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be, 'Seek simplicity and distrust it.'
Alfred North Whitehead


We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on.'
Richard Feynman


Science has taught … me to be careful how I adopt a view which jumps with my preconceptions, and to require stronger evidence for such belief than for one to which I was previously hostile.
Thomas H. Huxley (1825 - 1895). Letter to Charles Kingsley (23 September 1860)

"Modest doubt is called the beacon of the wise."
William Shakespeare
, Troilus and Cressida, II, ii, 56.


"One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever."
Ecclesiastes
1:4-7.


"Probability does not exist."
Bruno de Finetti (Theory of Probability, 1974, Wiley), 1906 - 1985.

"To know that one does not know - that is high wisdom.  The fault of those who make mistakes is that they think they know when they do not know."
Lü Shih
, Lü Shih Chun Qiu (Master Lü's Spring and Autumn Annals), 239 BC.

 "The farmers plow in spring, weed in summer, reap in fall, and store away in winter.  Because they do each at the proper season, there is a never-ending supply of grain and the people have more than enough to eat.  Because the lakes and rivers are watched over carefully and closed off at the proper time, there is an ever increasing supply of fish and other water creatures and the people have more than they can use.  Because the felling of trees and cutting of brush is done only at the proper time, the hills are never denuded and yet the people have all the wood they need.  These are the measures of a sage king."
Xun Zi
, (310-212 BC).

 "It is impossible to step into the same river twice."
Heraclitus
, (from Plutarch), 535–475 B.C.

 "The four seasons gave place to one another, produced one another and brought one another to an end... Those who study the Tao know that they cannot follow these changes to the ultimate end, nor search out their first beginnings."
Zhuang Zi
, Zhuang Zi.

 "As for me, all I know is I know nothing."
Socrates
, Phaedrus, sec. 235.

If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties
Sir Francis Bacon,
1561 - 1626

However much you study, you cannot know without action.
Saadi of Shiraz
, Thirteenth century Sufi author.


"The Earth is the origin of all things, the root and garden of all life... water is the blood and breath of the Earth, flowing and communicating within its body as if in sinews and veins."
Kuan Chung
, Kuan Tzu, 330 BC.

 "All phenomena have their causes.   If one does not know these causes, although one may happen to be right about the facts, it is as if one knew nothing, and in the end one will be bewildered... "
Lü Shih
, Lü Shih Chun Qiu (Master Lü's Spring and Autumn Annals), 239 B.C.


 "For if it happens in the microcosm, it happens also in the great."
Aristotle
, Physics.


"The girls go drawing the water from the brook,
The men go gathering firewood on the hill...
Alive, they are the people of Che'en Village;
Dead, they become the dust of Che'en Village"

Po Chü-I
, Ninth Century A.D.


"At sunup to work,
Sundown to rest,
Drinking from a well I dug,
Eating off the fields I plow,
The Emperor and his might- what are they to me?

Anonymous
, China


"As the soft yield of water cleaves obstinate stone,
So to yield with life solves the insoluble:
To yield, I have learned, is to come back again.
But this unworded lesson,
This easy example,
Is lost upon men."

Lao Zi
, Tao Te Ching, no. 43.