Quotes: Reason

Karen Armstrong
Nobody before the 18th century took the first chapter of Genesis as a literal account of the origins of life.

University of California Television (UCTV)

Aung San Suu Kyi
When people have chosen a certain path, they should walk it with satisfaction and not try to make it appear as a tremendous sacrifice.

January 2013, when asked whether she regretted choosing to return from Oxford to Burma, and her consequent imprisonment

David Bohm: On things as abstractions
The notion of a thing is thus seen to be an abstraction, in which it is conceptually separated from its infinite background and substructure. Actually, however, a thing does not and could not exist apart from the context from which has thus been conceptually abstracted. And therefore the world is not made by putting together the various “things” in it, but, rather, these things are only approximately what we find on analysis in certain contexts and under suitable conditions.

From The Essential David Bohm, edited by Lee Nichol, Routledge (2003), page 25. The text is part of an extract from Chapter 5 of D.Bohm, Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia (1957) and Routledge, London (1957).

David Bohm: On things becoming other kinds of thing
If, however, we now start... from the notion of the qualitative infinity of nature, we are then immediately able to arrive at a type of definition of the mode of being of any given kind of thing that does not contradict the possibility of its becoming something else. For... no given thing can be exactly and in all respects the kind of thing that is defined by any specified conceptual abstraction. Instead, it is always something more than this and, at least in some respects, something different. Hence, if the thing becomes something else, no unresolvable contradiction is now necessarily implied. For it is in this case never exactly represented by our original concept of it.

From The Essential David Bohm, edited by Lee Nichol, Routledge (2003), page 33. The text is part of an extract from Chapter 5 of D.Bohm, Causality and Chance in Modern Physics, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia (1957) and Routledge, London (1957).

David Bohm: On science, perception and knowledge
The reason that we are proposing [for the similarity between science and the process of perception] is that scientific investigation is basically a mode of extending our perception of the world, and not mainly a mode of obtaining knowledge about it.

From The Essential David Bohm, edited by Lee Nichol, Routledge (2003), page 66. The text is part of an extract from Appendix D of D.Bohm, The Special theory of Relativity, Routledge, London ([1965],1996)

David Bohm: On the mechanistic view of physics
Physics has become almost totally committed to the notion that the order of the universe is basically mechanistic. The most common form of this notion is that the world is assumed to be constituted of a set of separately existent, indivisible and unchangeable “elementary particles,” which are the fundamental “building blocks” of the entire universe. Originally, these were thought to be atoms, but atoms were eventually divided into electrons, protons and neutrons. These later were thought to be the absolutely unchangeable and indivisible constituents of all matter, but then these were found to be the subject of transformation into hundreds of different kinds of unstable particles, and now even smaller particles called “quarks” and “partons” have been postulated to explain these transformations. Though these have not yet been isolated there appears to be an unshakable faith among physicists that either such particles, or some other kind yet to be discovered, will eventually make possible a complete and coherent explanation of everything

From The Essential David Bohm, edited by Lee Nichol, Routledge (2003), page 81. The text is part of an extract from Chapter 7 of D.Bohm, Wholeness and Implicate Order, Routledge, London (1980)

David Bohm: On the inseparability of fact and theory
...it has no meaning to separate the observed fact... from the theoretical notions of order that help to give “shape” to this fact...

Fact and theory are thus seen to be different aspects of one whole in which analysis into separate but interacting parts is not relevant. That is to say, not only is undivided wholeness implied in the content of physics (notably relativity and quantum mechanics) but also in the manner of working in physics

From The Essential David Bohm, edited by Lee Nichol, Routledge (2003), page 123. The text is part of an extract from Chapter 6 of D.Bohm, Wholeness and Implicate Order, Routledge, London (1980)

David Bohm: On Bohr‘s interpretation of de Broglie's pilot wave theory, during a discussion with Renée Weber
Bohm: So the meaning of an experimental result and the form of the experimental conditions were no longer separate, they were a whole, as even Bohr said. This was immediately obvious in de Broglie’s interpretation whereas its a deep, impenetrable mystery in Bohr’s language.

Weber: Did Bohr not accept it?

Bohm: Bohr did. Bohr had the insight to see this [unity], and this is the basis of his work on interpretation... [but he] has a very complex way of putting it which very few physicists understand. In fact... the only consistent interpretation of that kind is Bohr’s, and the number who understand it is very small. Most physicists are just using it, taking it for granted that Bohr has done it right.

From The Essential David Bohm, edited by Lee Nichol, Routledge (2003), page 142. The text is part of an extract from Chapter 2 of R.Weber, Dialogues with Scientists and Sages: The Search for Unity. Routledge and Kegan Paul (1986).

The text does not state what is meant by an “interpretation of that kind”, but it seems likely that it refers to interpretations (like Bohr’s) in which the wave function collapses when a measurement is made.

David Bohm: On ambiguity and context dependence in Niels Bohr’s interpretation of quantum mechanics
... Niels Bohr... has made one of the most consistent interpretations of the quantum theory given thus far. ...first we have to say that while the quantum theory contradicts the previously existent classical theory, it does not explain the theory’s basic concepts as an approximation or a simplification of itself, but it has to presuppose the classical concepts at the same time that it has to contradict them. The paradox is resolved in Bohr’s point of view by saying that the quantum theory introduces no new basic concepts at all. Rather what it does is to require that concepts such as position and momentum, which are in principle unambiguous in classical physics, must become ambiguous in quantum mechanics. But ambiguity is just a lack of well-defined meaning. So Bohr, at least tacitly, brings in the notion of meaning as crucial to the understanding of the content of the theory...

[The] mathematics gives only statistical predictions. It not only fails to predict what will happen in a single measurement, it cannot even provide an unambiguous concept or picture of what sort of process is supposed to take place. So for Bohr the concepts are ambiguous, and the meaning of the concepts depends on the whole context of the experimental arrangement... on the large scale behaviour which was supposed to be explained by the particles themselves. So in some sense you do not have a “bottom level” but rather you find that, to a certain extent, the meaning of these particles has the same sort of ambiguity that we find in mental phenomena when we are looking at meaning.

Paragraph omitted

Now I believe Bohr’s interpretation of quantum theory is consistent... but it is still not clear why matter should have this context dependence. He just says that quantum theory gives rise to it.

From The Essential David Bohm, edited by Lee Nichol, Routledge (2003), page 169/170. The text is part of an extract from Chapter 3 of D Bohm, Unfolding Meaning: A Weekend of Dialogue, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London ([1985],1987).

David Bohm: On content, context, and meaning
Content and context are two aspects that are inevitably present in any attempt to discuss the meaning of a given situation... this sort of context-dependence is just what is found in physics with regard to matter, as well as in considerations of mind or meaning.

From The Essential David Bohm, edited by Lee Nichol, Routledge (2003), page 170. The text is part of an extract from Chapter 3 of D Bohm, Unfolding Meaning: A Weekend of Dialogue, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London ([1985],1987).

David Bohm: On nature and machines
I would say that the crucial difference between [nature] and a machine is that nature is infinite in its potential depths of subtlety and inwardness, while a machine is not. Although to a certain extent a machine such as a computer has something similar.

From The Essential David Bohm, edited by Lee Nichol, Routledge (2003), page 172. The text is part of an extract from Chapter 3 of D Bohm, Unfolding Meaning: A Weekend of Dialogue, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London ([1985],1987).

Jacob Bronowski: On loss of commitment to reason in the West
And I am infinitely saddened to find myself suddenly surrounded in the west by a sense of terrible loss of nerve, a retreat from knowledge into – into what? Into Zen Buddhism; into falsely profound questions about, Are we not really just animals at bottom; into extra-sensory perception and mystery. They do not lie along the line of what we are now able to know if we devote ourselves to it: an understanding of man himself. We are nature’s unique experiment to make the rational intelligence prove itself sounder than the reflex. Knowledge is our destiny. Self-knowledge, at last bringing together the experience of the arts and the explanations of science, waits ahead of us.

From 'The Ascent Of Man'

Jacob Bronowski: At Auschwitz, on the consequences of a belief in absolute knowledge
When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.

From 'The Ascent Of Man'

Werner Heisenberg: On objective reality
the idea of an objective real world whose smallest parts exist objectively in the same sense as stones or trees exist, independently of whether or not we observe them... is impossible...

W. Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy, Harper and Row, New York (1958), page 129.

See Karl Popper‘s view below.

W. Daniel Hillis: On the Computer and the Brain
I do not feel diminished by my kinship to Turing's machine.

From 'The Pattern in the Stone'

Stuart Kauffmann: On The Origin of Life
In crafting the living world, selection has always acted on systems that exhibit spontaneous order. If I am right, this underlying order, further honed by selection, augurs a new place for us - expected, rather than vastly improbable, at home in the universe in a newly understood way.

From the preface to 'At Home in the Universe'.

Robert Kennedy On Gross National Product
Even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction - purpose and dignity - that afflicts us all.

Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product - if we judge the United States of America by that - that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.

It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.

It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.

It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

If this is true here at home, so it is true elsewhere in world.

University of Kansas, March 18, 1968

Frank Lambert: On Entropy
Entropy is not disorder. Entropy is not a measure of disorder or chaos. Entropy is not a driving force. Energy's diffusion, dissipation, or dispersion in a final state compared to an initial state is the driving force in chemistry. Entropy is the index of that dispersal within a system and between the system and its surroundings

From "Disorder - A Cracked Crutch For Supporting Entropy Discussions", available at http://www.entropysite.com/cracked_crutch.html. Originally published in: J. Chem. Educ. 2002 79 187-192.

Pierre Simon Laplace: On God
Sir, I have no need of that hypothesis.
Karl Popper: On the existence of physical reality
The central issue here is realism. That is to say, the reality of the physical world we live in: the fact that this world exists independently of ourselves; that it existed before life existed, acording to our best hypotheses; and that it will continue to exist, for all we know, long after we have all been swept away.

I have argued in favour of realism in various places. My arguments are partly rational, partly ad hominem, and partly even ethical. It seems to me that the attack on realism, although intellectually interesting and important, is quite unacceptable, especially after two world wars and the real suffering - avoidable suffering - that was wantonly produced by them; and that any argument against realism which is based on modern atomic theory - on quantum mechanics - ought to be silenced by the memory of the reality of the events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (I say this in full admiration for the modern atomic theory and quantum mechanics, and of the scientists who have worked and who are now working in this field.)

Quantum Theory and the Schism in Physics, Unwin Hyman, Preface 1982.

Attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
Bertrand Russell: On Plato's Theory of Ideas
Any attempt to divide the world into portions, of which one is more 'real' than the other, is doomed to failure.

A History of Western Philosophy, Unwin Paperbacks, 1989, page 144.

Bertrand Russell: On the Approach to Art, Science, Literature and Philosophy
For my part, I have found that, when I wish to write a book on some subject, I must first soak myself in detail, until all the separate parts of the subject-matter are familiar; then, some day, if I am fortunate, I perceive the whole with all its parts duly interrelated.

A History of Western Philosophy, Unwin Paperbacks, 1989, page 138.

Bertrand Russell: On the use of reason by thirteenth century Christian philosophers to argue with those who did not accept the validity of the Christian revelation
In the long run, the appeal to reason was perhaps a mistake, but in the thirteenth century it seemed highly successful.

A History of Western Philosophy, Taylor and Francis e-Library edition, 2004, Kindle location 5874.

Nicholas Stern: On addressing climate change
Are we going to look our grandchildren in the eye and tell them that we understood the issues, that we recognised the dangers and the opportunities, and still we failed to act? Surely not...

Concluding a talk in New York in September 2014, speaking immediately after introducing his two-week old granddaughter Rosa on stage.

Stern was a co-author of a report, ``Better Growth, Better Climate'', provided to the UN at the time of the 2014 Climate Summit.

Bjarne Stroustrup: On defining new derived classes in inheritance hierarchies
This gives great flexibility with corresponding opportunities for confusion and poor design.

The C++ Programming Language, Fourthe Edition, Section 3.2.4.

Harold Urey: On his expectations for the Miller-Urey experiment

This was Urey's response when asked what he expected to get from the experiment his student, Stanley Miller, was conducting on pre-biotic chemical synthesis in a reducing atmosphere. He was referring to the one hundred plus volume compendium begun by Friedrich Beilstein, "Beilsteins Handbuch der Organische Chemie", which describes all the organic compounds that have been synthesised. This quote is from Wiils and Bada's "The Spark of Life".

Günter Wächtershäuser: On Soups
You can have a soup of anything.

During a conversation at the 'Conditions for the emergence of life' conference at the Royal Society in London in 2006, in which I outlined the SimSoup model, and mentioned that the name SimSoup was not intended to suggest only a soup of large molecules as in heterotrophic theories of the Origin of Life; it could also be used to model small molecule theories such as that of Prof. Wächtershäuser