Bethe, Hans

Scientific theories are not overthrown; they are expanded, refined, and generalized.

In Victor Weisskopf Physics in the Twentieth Century Forward (p. x)

...a theory of mathematical physics is not one of pure mathematics. Its aim and its raison d'etre are not solely to construct the rational scheme of some possible world, but to construct that particular rational scheme of the particular real world in which we live and breathe. It is for this reason that a theory of mathematical physics, in contradistinction to one of pure mathematics, is constantly subjected to the control of experiment.

The Evolution of Scientific Thought Chapter XXI (p. 215)

Duhem, Pierre

Contemplation of a set of experimental laws does not, therefore, suffice to suggest to the physicist what hypotheses he should choose in order to give a theoretical representation of these laws; it is also necessary that the thoughts habitual with those among whom he lives and the tendencies impressed on his own mind by his previous studies come and guide him, and restrict the excessively great latitude left to this day a merely empirical form until circumstances prepare the genius of a physicist to conceive the hypothesis which will organize them into a theory!

The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory Chapter VII (p. 255)

Einstein, Albert

For the creation of a theory the mere collection of recorded phenomena never suffices—there must always be added a free invention of the human mind that attacks the heart of the matter. And: the physicist must not be content with the purely phenomenological considerations that pertain to the phenomenon. Indeed, he should press on to the speculative method, which looks for the underlying pattern.

Lecture at the Berlin Planetarium 4 October 1931

Quoted in Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman Albert Einstein: The Human Side (pp. 29-30)

Creating a new thory is not like destroying a barn or erecting a new skyscraper in its place. It is rather like climbing a mountain, gaining new and wider views, discovering unexpected connections between our starting point and its rich environment. But the point from which we started out still exists and can be seen, although it appears smaller and forms a tiny part of out broad view gained by the mastery of the obstacles on our adventurous way up.

The Evolution of Physics

Einstein, Albert Infeld, Leopold

Physical theories try to form a picture of reality and to establish its connection with the wide world of sense impressions. Thus the only justification for our mental structures is whether and in what way our theories form such a link.

The Evolution of Physics Chapter IV (p. 294)

Goldhaber, Maurice

Antaeus was the strongest person alive, invincible as long as he was in contact with his mother, the earth. Once he lost contact with the earth, he grew weak and was vanquished. Theories in physics are like that. They have to touch the ground for their strength.

The Atlantic Monthly In Robert P. Crease and Charles C. Mann How the Universe Works (p. 91) August 1984

Koestler, Arthur

The history of cosmic theories...may without exaggeration be called a history of collective obsessions and controlled schizophrenias.

The Sleepwalkers

Laszlo, E.

Ours is a complex world. But human knowledge is finite and circumscribed. 'Nature does not come as clean as you can think it,'

warned Alfred North Whitehead, and went on to propound an extremely clean and elegant cosmology. Since theories, like window panes, are clear only when they are clean, and the world does not come as cleanly as all that, we must know where we perform a clean-up operation. Scientific theories while simpler than reality, must nevertheless reflect its essential structure. Science then must beware of rejecting the structure for the sake of simplicity; that would be to throw out the baby with the bath water.

The Systems View of the World: The Natural Philosophy of the New Developments in the Sciences

Libes, Antoine

Let us add a word in favor of theories, which certain physicists still dare to present as invincible obstacles to the discovery of truth. It is incontestable that experience and observation ought to serve as the basis of our physical knowledge. But without the help of theory the most well-certified experiments, the most numerous observations will be only isolated facts in the hands of the physicist, isolated facts which cannot serve for the advancement of physics. The man of genius must seize upon these scattered links and bring them together skillfully to form a continuous chain. This continuity constitutes the theory, which alone can give us a glimpse of the relations which bind the facts to one another and of their dependence on the causes which have produced them.

In Russell McCormmach (ed.)

Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences

Volume 4 In Robert H. Stilliman Fresnel and the Emergence of Physics as a Discipline (p. 143)

Lowell, Percival

All deductions rests ultimately upon the data derived from experience. This is the tortoise that supports our conception of the cosmos. For us, therefore, the point at issue in any theory is not whether there is a possibility of its being false, but whether there is a probability of its being true. too often lost sight of in discussing theories on their way to recognition. Negative evidence is no evidence at all, and the possibility that a thing might be otherwise, no proof whatever that it is not so. The test of a theory is, first, that it shall not be directly contradicted by any facts, and secondly, that the probabilities in its favor shall be sufficiently great.

In William Graves Hoyt Lowell and Mars Chapter 2 (p. 25)

Popper, Karl

We have no reason to regard the new theory as better than the old theory— to believe that it is nearer to the truth—until we have derived from the new theory new predictions which were unobtainable from the old theory (the phases of Venus...) and until we have found that these new predictions were successful.

Conjectures and Refutations Chapter 10 (p. 246)

The more a theory forbids, the better it is.

Conjectures and Refutations Chapter I, Section I (p. 41)

Rothman, Tony

It is not difficult to calculate that if one inflated the world to keep up with the current rate of population growth, then after 2598 years the earth would be expanding at the speed of light. The growth of science is proceeding even faster. Several years ago, in physics at least, we crossed the point at which the expected lifetime of a theory became less than the lead time for publication in the average scientific journal. Consequently, most theories are born dead on arrival and journals have become useless, except as historical documents.

A Physicist on Madison Avenue Chapter 8 (p. 118)

Slater, John C.

A theoretical physicist in these days asks just one thing of his theories: if he uses them to calculate the outcome of an experiment, the theoretical prediction must agree, within limits, with the result of the experiment. He does not ordinarily argue about the philosophical implications of his theory. Almost his only recent contribution to philosophy has been the operational idea, which is essentially only a different way of phrasing the statement I have just made, that the one and only thing to be done with a theory is to predict the outcome of an experiment. As a physicist, I find myself very well satisfied with this attitude. Questions about a theory which do not affect its ability to predict experimental results correctly seem to me quibbles about words, rather than anything more substantial, and I am quite content to leave such questions to those who derive some satisfaction from them.

Journal of the Franklin Institute Electrodynamics of Ponderable Bodies Volume 225, Number. 3, March 1938 (pp. 277-87)


A well built theory has three merits: (i) it has an aesthetic appeal, (ii) it is comparatively easy to understand, and (iii), if its postulates are clearly stated, it may be taken out of its original physical context and applied in another.

Proceedings of the Irish Academy The Hamiltonian Method and its Application to Water Waves (p. 1) Volume 63, Section A, Number 1, May 1962

von Goethe, Johann Wolfgang

An extremely odd demand is often set forth but never met, even by those who make it: i.e., that empirical data should be presented without any theoretical context, leaving the reader, the student, to his own devices in judging it. This demand seems odd because it is useless simply to look at something. Every act of looking turns into observation, every act of observation into reflection, every act of reflection into the making of associations; thus it is evident that we theorize every time we look carefully at the world.

In Douglas Miller Scientific Studies Volume 12 Theory of Color Preface (p. 159)

The highest is to understand that all fact is really theory. The blue of the sky reveals to us the basic law of color. Search nothing beyond the phenomena, they themselves are the theory.

In Rupprecht Matthaei (ed.) Goethe's Color Theory (p. 76, note)

Wheeler, John A.

To hate is to study, to study is to understand, to understand is to appreciate, to appreciate is to love. So maybe I'll end up loving your theory.

Scientific American June 1991

[Theory] Sometimes it is used for a hypothesis, sometimes for a confirmed hypothesis; sometimes for a train of thought; sometimes for a wild guess at some fact or for a reasoned claim about what some fact is—or even for a philosophical speculation.

Foundations of Inference in Natural Science Chapter III (p. 33)

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