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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index B > Charles Babbage Quotes

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Charles Babbage
(26 Dec 1791 - 18 Oct 1871)

English mathematician.


Science Quotes by Charles Babbage (30 quotes)

Forging differs from hoaxing, inasmuch as in the later the deceit is intended to last for a time, and then be discovered, to the ridicule of those who have credited it; whereas the forger is one who, wishing to acquire a reputation for science, records observations which he has never made.
— Charles Babbage
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830). In Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao, Statistics and Truth (1997), 84.
Science quotes on:  |  Forgery (2)  |  Observation (264)

Of Cooking. This is an art of various forms, the object of which is to give ordinary observations the appearance and character of those of the highest degree of accuracy. One of its numerous processes is to make multitudes of observations, and out of these to select only those which agree, or very nearly agree. If a hundred observations are made, the cook must be very unhappy if he cannot pick out fifteen or twenty which will do for serving up.
— Charles Babbage
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830). In Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao, Statistics and Truth (1997), 84.
Science quotes on:  |  Fraud (6)  |  Hoax (2)  |  Observation (264)

Trimming consists of clipping off little bits here and there from those observations which differ most in excess from the mean, and in sticking them onto those which are too small; a species of 'equitable adjustment,' as a radical would term it, which cannot be admitted in science.
— Charles Babbage
'On the Frauds of Observers', Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830). In Calyampudi Radhakrishna Rao, Statistics and Truth (1997), 84.
Science quotes on:  |  Data (59)  |  Fraud (6)

A young man passes from our public schools to the universities, ignorant almost of the elements of every branch of useful knowledge.
— Charles Babbage
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England and on Some of its Causes (1830), 3.
Science quotes on:  |  Education (177)

Errors using inadequate data are much less than those using no data at all.[?] Simplified restatement of another quotation by Babbage.
— Charles Babbage
This seems to the webmaster to be derived from the sourced quotation: 'The errors which arise from the absence of facts are far more numerous and more durable than those which result from unsound reasoning respecting true data.' Although the simplified version is often see as a quote attributed to Babbage, the Webmaster has not yet found the short quote in a primary print source. [If you know a primary print source for Babbage making in his own words the shorter statement, please contact the webmaster.]
Science quotes on:  |  Data (59)  |  Error (152)  |  Inadequate (3)

For one person who is blessed with the power of invention, many will always be found who have the capacity of applying principles.
— Charles Babbage
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England and on Some of its Causes (1830), 18.
Science quotes on:  |  Invention (174)

He will also find that the high and independent spirit, which usually dwells in the breast of those who are deeply versed in scientific pursuits, is ill adapted for administrative appointments; and that even if successful, he must hear many things he disapproves, and raise no voice against them.
— Charles Babbage
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England and on Some of its Causes, (1830), 38.
Science quotes on:  |  Men Of Science (90)

I have no desire to write my own biography, as long as I have strength and means to do better work.
— Charles Babbage
Passages From the Life of a Philosopher (1864), vii.
Science quotes on:  |  Ambition (18)  |  Biography (199)

It can happen to but few philosophers, and but at distant intervals, to snatch a science, like Dalton, from the chaos of indefinite combination, and binding it in the chains of number, to exalt it to rank amongst the exact. Triumphs like these are necessarily 'few and far between.'
— Charles Babbage
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830), 22.
Science quotes on:  |  John Dalton (20)  |  Discovery (360)  |  Measurement (112)  |  Research (360)

Long intervals frequently elapse between the discovery of new principles in science and their practical application… Those intellectual qualifications, which give birth to new principles or to new methods, are of quite a different order from those which are necessary for their practical application.
— Charles Babbage
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830), 16.
Science quotes on:  |  Creativity (45)  |  Invention (174)

Mechanical Notation ... I look upon it as one of the most important additions I have made to human knowledge. It has placed the construction of machinery in the rank of a demonstrative science. The day will arrive when no school of mechanical drawing will be thought complete without teaching it.
— Charles Babbage
Passages From the Life of a Philosopher (1864), 452.
Science quotes on:  |  Computer (51)

No person will deny that the highest degree of attainable accuracy is an object to be desired, and it is generally found that the last advances towards precision require a greater devotion of time, labour, and expense, than those which precede them.
— Charles Babbage
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830), 167.
Science quotes on:  |  Measurement (112)

Precedents are treated by powerful minds as fetters with which to bind down the weak, as reasons with which to mistify the moderately informed, and as reeds which they themselves fearlessly break through whenever new combinations and difficult emergencies demand their highest efforts.
— Charles Babbage
A Word to the Wise (1833), 3-6. Quoted in Anthony Hyman (ed.), Science and Reform: Selected Works of Charles Babbage (1989), 202.
Science quotes on:  |  Invention (174)

Remember that accumulated knowledge, like accumulated capital, increases at compound interest: but it differs from the accumulation of capital in this; that the increase of knowledge produces a more rapid rate of progress, whilst the accumulation of capital leads to a lower rate of interest. Capital thus checks its own accumulation: knowledge thus accelerates its own advance. Each generation, therefore, to deserve comparison with its predecessor, is bound to add much more largely to the common stock than that which it immediately succeeds.
— Charles Babbage
The Exposition of 1851: Or the Views of Industry, Science and Government of England (1851), 192-3.
Science quotes on:  |  Knowledge (679)  |  Progress (200)

Science in England is not a profession: its cultivators are scarcely recognised even as a class. Our language itself contains no single term by which their occupation can be expressed. We borrow a foreign word [Savant] from another country whose high ambition it is to advance science, and whose deeper policy, in accord with more generous feelings, gives to the intellectual labourer reward and honour, in return for services which crown the nation with imperishable renown, and ultimately enrich the human race.
— Charles Babbage
The Exposition of 1851: Or the Views of Industry, Science and Government of England (1851), 171.
Science quotes on:  |  Ambition (18)  |  Men Of Science (90)  |  Occupation (28)

Scientific knowledge scarcely exists amongst the higher classes of society. The discussion in the Houses of Lords or of Commons, which arise on the occurrence of any subjects connected with science, sufficiently prove this fact…
— Charles Babbage
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830), 8.
Science quotes on:  |  Decline Of Science (2)  |  Education (177)  |  Government (50)

That a country, [England], eminently distinguished for its mechanical and manufacturing ingenuity, should be indifferent to the progress of inquiries which form the highest departments of that knowledge on whose more elementary truths its wealth and rank depend, is a fact which is well deserving the attention of those who shall inquire into the causes that influence the progress of nations.
— Charles Babbage
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England and on Some of its Causes (1830), 1.
Science quotes on:  |  Education (177)  |  Progress (200)

That science has long been neglected and declining in England, is not an opinion originating with me, but is shared by many, and has been expressed by higher authority than mine. (1830)
— Charles Babbage
In Reflections on the Decline of Science in England, and on Some of Its Causes (1830), Preface, v.
Science quotes on:  |  Authority (24)  |  Decline (6)  |  England (17)  |  Neglect (10)  |  Opinion (81)  |  Science (875)  |  Share (11)

The errors which arise from the absence of facts are far more numerous and more durable than those which result from unsound reasoning respecting true data.
— Charles Babbage
On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures (1832), 119.
Science quotes on:  |  Error (152)

The first steps in the path of discovery, and the first approximate measures, are those which add most to the existing knowledge of mankind.
— Charles Babbage
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830), 167.
Science quotes on:  |  Discovery (360)  |  Measurement (112)

The gradual advance of Geology, during the last twenty years, to the dignity of a science, has arisen from the laborious and extensive collection of facts, and from the enlightened spirit in which the inductions founded on those facts have been deduced and discussed. To those who are unacquainted with this science, or indeed to any person not deeply versed in the history of this and kindred subjects, it is impossible to convey a just impression of the nature of that evidence by which a multitude of its conclusions are supported:—evidence in many cases so irresistible, that the records of the past ages, to which it refers, are traced in language more imperishable than that of the historian of any human transactions; the relics of those beings, entombed in the strata which myriads of centuries have heaped upon their graves, giving a present evidence of their past existence, with which no human testimony can compete.
— Charles Babbage
The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise (1838), 47-8.
Science quotes on:  |  Geology (145)  |  Research (360)

The influence of electricity in producing decompositions, although of inestimable value as an instrument of discovery in chemical inquiries, can hardly be said to have been applied to the practical purposes of life, until the same powerful genius [Davy] which detected the principle, applied it, by a singular felicity of reasoning, to arrest the corrosion of the copper-sheathing of vessels. ... this was regarded as by Laplace as the greatest of Sit Humphry's discoveries.
— Charles Babbage
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830), 16.
Science quotes on:  |  Corrosion (3)  |  Sir Humphry Davy (39)  |  Electrolysis (7)  |  Invention (174)  |  Pierre-Simon Laplace (45)

The tastes and pursuits of manhood will bear on them the traces of the earlier impressions of our education. It is therefore not unreasonable to suppose that some portion of the neglect of science in England, may be attributed to the system of education we pursue.
— Charles Babbage
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830), 3.
Science quotes on:  |  Decline Of Science (2)  |  Education (177)

The whole of the developments and operations of analysis are now capable of being executed by machinery ... As soon as an Analytical Engine exists, it will necessarily guide the future course of science.
— Charles Babbage
Passages From the Life of a Philosopher (1864), 136-137.
Science quotes on:  |  Analysis (82)  |  Analytical Engine (3)  |  Computer (51)  |  Development (122)  |  Execution (6)  |  Future (110)  |  Guide (17)  |  Machine (56)  |  Necessity (78)  |  Operation (53)  |  Science (875)

Unless there exist peculiar institutions for the support of such inquirers, or unless the Government directly interfere, the contriver of a thaumatrope may derive profit from his ingenuity, whilst he who unravels the laws of light and vision, on which multitudes of phenomena depend, shall descend unrewarded to the tomb.
— Charles Babbage
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830), 19.
Science quotes on:  |  Government (50)  |  Inventor (25)  |  Light (117)  |  Money (87)  |  Research (360)

What is there in a name? It is merely an empty basket, until you put something into it.
— Charles Babbage
Passages From the Life of a Philosopher (1864), 1.
Science quotes on:  |  Name (58)

Whenever a man can get hold of numbers, they are invaluable: if correct, they assist in informing his own mind, but they are still more useful in deluding the minds of others. Numbers are the masters of the weak, but the slaves of the strong.
— Charles Babbage
Passages From the Life of a Philosopher (1864), 410.
Science quotes on:  |  Number (90)

You will be able to appreciate the influence of such an Engine on the future progress of science. I live in a country which is incapable of estimating it.
— Charles Babbage
To an unidentified American, Burndy Library, as quoted inAnthony Hyman, Charles Babbage: Pioneer of the Computer (1985), 135.
Science quotes on:  |  Appreciation (12)  |  Computer (51)  |  Country (43)  |  Progress (200)

You will be able to appreciate the influence of such an Engine on the future progress of science. I live in a country which is incapable of estimating it.
— Charles Babbage
To an unidentified American, Burndy Library, as quoted inAnthony Hyman, Charles Babbage: Pioneer of the Computer (1985), 135.

“Every moment dies a man,/ Every moment one is born”:
I need hardly point out to you that this calculation would tend to keep the sum total of the world's population in a state of perpetual equipoise whereas it is a well-known fact that the said sum total is constantly on the increase. I would therefore take the liberty of suggesting that in the next edition of your excellent poem the erroneous calculation to which I refer should be corrected as follows:
'Every moment dies a man / And one and a sixteenth is born.” I may add that the exact figures are 1.167, but something must, of course, be conceded to the laws of metre.
— Charles Babbage
Unpublished letter to Tennyson in response to his Vision of Sin (1842). Quoted in Philip and Emily Morrison, Charles Babbage and his Calculating Engines: Selected Writings by Charles Babbage and Others (1961), xxiii.
Science quotes on:  |  Mathematics (367)  |  Population (41)  |  Statistics (82)



Quotes by others about Charles Babbage (6)

The Analytical Engine weaves algebraical patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves.
[Describing Charles Babbage's machine.]
In her notes as translator, following her translation of I. F. Menabrea, 'Sketch of the Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage, Esq.', (from Bibliothègue Universelle de Génève (Oct 1842), No. 82) in Richard Taylor (ed.), Scientific Memoirs (1843), 3, 696.
Science quotes on:  |  Analytical Engine (3)  |  Loom (4)  |  Pattern (18)

Babbage … gave the name to the [Cambridge] Analytical Society, which he stated was formed to advocate 'the principles of pure d-ism as opposed to the dot-age of the university.'
History of Mathematics (3rd Ed., 1901), 451.
Science quotes on:  |  Advocate (4)  |  Anecdote (15)  |  Principle (97)  |  Society (84)  |  University (29)

And indeed I am no humming,
Thus to sing of Cl-ke and C-ming,
Who all the universe surpasses
in cutting up and making gases;
With anatomy and chemics,
Metaphysics and polemics,
Analyzing and chirugery,
And scientific surgery ...
H-slow's lectures on the cabbage
Useful are as roots of Babbage;
Fluxions and beet-root botany,
Some would call pure monotony.
Magazine
Punch in Cambridge (28 Jan 1834). In Mark Weatherall, Gentlemen, Scientists, and Medicine at Cambridge 1800-1940 (2000), Vol. 3,77. The professors named were William Clark (anatomy), James Cumming (chemistry) and Johns Stephens Henslow (botany).
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Charles Babbage proposed to make an automaton chess-player which should register mechanically the number of games lost and gained in consequence of every sort of move. Thus, the longer the automaton went on playing game, the more experienced it would become by the accumulation of experimental results. Such a machine precisely represents the acquirement of experience by our nervous organization.
In ‘Experimental Legislation’, Popular Science (Apr 1880), 16, 754-5.
Science quotes on:  |  Accumulation (16)  |  Acquisition (21)  |  Artificial Intelligence (6)  |  Automaton (4)  |  Chess (13)  |  Consequence (44)  |  Experience (132)  |  Experiment (369)  |  Gain (23)  |  Game (28)  |  Human Mind (21)  |  Loss (44)  |  Machine (56)  |  Mechanical (11)  |  Move (10)  |  Nerve (53)  |  Organization (51)  |  Player (3)  |  Proposal (5)  |  Registration (2)  |  Representation (17)  |  Result (129)

The Analytical Engine has no pretensions whatever to originate anything. It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform. It can follow analysis; but it has no power of anticipating any analytical relations or truths. Its province is to assist us to making available what we are already acquainted with.
[Describing Charles Babbage's machine.]
In her notes as translator, following her translation of I. F. Menabrea, 'Sketch of the Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage, Esq.', (from Bibliothègue Universelle de Génève (Oct 1842), No. 82) in Richard Taylor (ed.), Scientific Memoirs (1843), 3, 722.
Science quotes on:  |  Analysis (82)  |  Analytical Engine (3)  |  Anticipate (2)  |  Computer (51)  |  Originate (2)  |  Pretension (3)  |  Truth (450)

On Sept 15th [1852] Mr Goulburn, Chancellor of the Exchequer, asked my opinion on the utility of Mr Babbage's calculating machine, and the propriety of spending further sums of money on it. I replied, entering fully into the matter, and giving my opinion that it was worthless.
In George Biddell Airy and Wilfrid Airy (ed.), Autobiography of Sir George Biddell Airy (1896), 152.
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See also:
  • todayinsci icon 26 Dec - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Babbage's birth.
  • book icon Charles Babbage: Pioneer of the Computer, by Anthony Hyman. - book suggestion.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail 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 something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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