When the logician has resolved each demonstration into a host of elementary operations, all of them correct, he will not yet be in possession of the whole reality, that indefinable something that constitutes the unity ... Now pure logic cannot give us this view of the whole; it is to intuition that we must look for it.
Astronomy is useful because it raises us above ourselves; it is useful because it is grand; .... It shows us how small is man's body, how great his mind, since his intelligence can embrace the whole of this dazzling immensity, where his body is only an obscure point, and enjoy its silent harmony.
Consider now the Milky Way. Here also we see an innumerable dust, only the grains of this dust are no longer atoms but stars; these grains also move with great velocities, they act at a distance one upon another, but this action is so slight at great distances that their trajectories are rectilineal; nevertheless, from time to time, two of them may come near enough together to be deviated from their course, like a comet that passed too close to Jupiter. In a word, in the eyes of a giant, to whom our Suns were what our atoms are to... Read more »
What is a good definition? For the philosopher or the scientist, it is a definition which applies to all the objects to be defined, and applies only to them; it is that which satisfies the rules of logic. But in education it is not that; it is one that can be understood by the pupils.
If we ought not to fear mortal truth, still less should we dread scientific truth. In the first place it can not conflict with ethics? But if science is feared, it is above all because it can give no happiness? Man, then, can not be happy through science but today he can much less be happy without it.
This harmony that human intelligence believes it discovers in nature - does it exist apart from that intelligence? No, without doubt, a reality completely independent of the spirit which conceives it, sees it or feels it, is an impossibility. A world so exterior as that, even if it existed, would be forever inaccessible to us. But what we call objective reality is, in the last analysis, that which is common to several thinking beings, and could be common to all; this common part, we will see, can be nothing but the harmony expressed by mathematical laws.
All the scientist creates in a fact is the language in which he enunciates it. If he predicts a fact, he will employ this language, and for all those who can speak and understand it, his prediction is free from ambiguity. Moreover, this prediction once made, it evidently does not depend upon him whether it is fulfilled or not.
All that we can hope from these inspirations, which are the fruits of unconscious work, is to obtain points of departure for such calculations. As for the calculations themselves, they must be made in the second period of conscious work which follows the inspiration, and in which the results of the inspiration are verified and the consequences deduced.
I entered an omnibus to go to some place or other. At that moment when I put my foot on the step the idea came to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it, that the transformations I had used to define the Fuchsian functions were identical with non-Euclidean geometry.
Absolute space, that is to say, the mark to which it would be necessary to refer the earth to know whether it really moves, has no objective existence.... The two propositions: "The earth turns round" and "it is more convenient to suppose the earth turns round" have the same meaning; there is nothing more in the one than in the other.
The scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it, and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful it would not be worth knowing, and life would not be worth living. I am not speaking, of course, of the beauty which strikes the senses, of the beauty of qualities and appearances. I am far from despising this, but it has nothing to do with science. What I mean is that more intimate beauty which comes from the harmonious order of its... Read more »
The advance of science is not comparable to the changes of a city, where old edifices are pitilessly torn down to give place to new, but to the continuous evolution of zoologic types which develop ceaselessly and end by becoming unrecognisable to the common sight, but where an expert eye finds always traces of the prior work of the centuries past. One must not think then that the old-fashioned theories have been sterile and vain.