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Chance Quotes (77 quotes)

Dans les champs de l’observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés.
In the field of observation, chance favours only the prepared mind.
Inaugural Address as newly appointed Professor and Dean (Sep 1854) at the opening of the new Faculté des Sciences at Lille (7 Dec 1854). In René Vallery-Radot, The Life of Pasteur, translated by Mrs. R. L. Devonshire (1919), 76.
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Kein Sieger glaubt an den Zufall.
No victor believes in chance.
The Gay Science (1882), book 3, no. 258, trans. W. Kaufmann (1974), 217.
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[Answering whether there was life in other worlds, he said there probably was.] After all, there's plenty of unearthly looking things moving around in my refrigerator, so there's always a chance of life springing up almost anywhere.
In Keith Colquhoun and Ann Wroe, Economist Book of Obituaries (2008), 79.
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A body of work such as Pasteur's is inconceivable in our time: no man would be given a chance to create a whole science. Nowadays a path is scarcely opened up when the crowd begins to pour in.
Pensées d’un Biologiste (1939). Translated in The Substance of Man (1962), Chap. 6.
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A fool must now and then be right, by chance
'Conversation' (published 1782). In William Cowper and Humphrey Sumner Milford (ed.), The Complete Poetical Works of William Cowper (1905), 92.
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A game is on, at the other end of this infinite distance, and heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason you cannot leave either; according to reason you cannot leave either undone... Yes, but wager you must; there is no option, you have embarked on it. So which will you have. Come. Since you must choose, let us see what concerns you least. You have two things to lose: truth and good, and two things to stake: your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness. And your nature has two things to shun: error and misery. Your reason does not suffer by your choosing one more than the other, for you must choose. That is one point cleared. But your happiness? Let us weigh gain and loss in calling heads that God is. Reckon these two chances: if you win, you win all; if you lose, you lose naught. Then do not hesitate, wager that He is.
Pensées (1670), Section I, aphorism 223. In H. F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal's Pensées (1950), 117-119.
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A man who keeps company with glaciers comes to feel tolerably insignificiant by and by. The Alps and the glaciers together are able to take every bit of conceit out of a man and reduce his self-importance to zero if he will only remain within the influence of their sublime presence long enough to give it a fair and reasonable chance to do its work.
In A Tramp Abroad (1880), 466.
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A New Arithmetic: “I am not much of a mathematician,” said the cigarette, “but I can add nervous troubles to a boy, I can subtract from his physical energy, I can multiply his aches and pains, I can divide his mental powers, I can take interest from his work and discount his chances for success.”
Anonymous
In Henry Ford, The Case Against the Little White Slaver (1914), Vol. 3, 40.
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All Nature is but Art, unknown to thee;
All Chance, Direction, which thou canst not see;
All Discord, Harmony, not understood;
All partial Evil, universal Good:
And, spite of Pride, in erring Reason's spite,
One truth is clear, 'Whatever IS, is RIGHT.'
'An Essay on Man' (1733-4), Epistle I. In John Butt (ed.), The Poems of Alexander Pope (1965), 515.
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Among all the occurrences possible in the universe the a priori probability of any particular one of them verges upon zero. Yet the universe exists; particular events must take place in it, the probability of which (before the event) was infinitesimal. At the present time we have no legitimate grounds for either asserting or denying that life got off to but a single start on earth, and that, as a consequence, before it appeared its chances of occurring were next to nil. ... Destiny is written concurrently with the event, not prior to it.
In Jacques Monod and Austryn Wainhouse (trans.), Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1971), 145.
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An egg is a chemical process, but it is not a mere chemical process. It is one that is going places—even when, in our world of chance and contingency, it ends up in an omelet and not in a chicken. Though it surely be a chemical process, we cannot understand it adequately without knowing the kind of chicken it has the power to become.
'The Changing Impact of Darwin on Philosophy', Journal of the History of Ideas (1961), 22, 457.
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Armed with all the powers, enjoying all the wealth they owe to science, our societies are still trying to practice and to teach systems of values already destroyed at the roots by that very science. Man knows at last that he is alone in the indifferent immensity of the universe, whence which he has emerged by chance. His duty, like his fate, is written nowhere.
In Jacques Monod and Austryn Wainhouse (trans.), Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1971), 171.
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Borel makes the amusing supposition of a million monkeys allowed to play upon the keys of a million typewriters. What is the chance that this wanton activity should reproduce exactly all of the volumes which are contained in the library of the British Museum? It certainly is not a large chance, but it may be roughly calculated, and proves in fact to be considerably larger than the chance that a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen will separate into the two pure constituents. After we have learned to estimate such minute chances, and after we have overcome our fear of numbers which are very much larger or very much smaller than those ordinarily employed, we might proceed to calculate the chance of still more extraordinary occurrences, and even have the boldness to regard the living cell as a result of random arrangement and rearrangement of its atoms. However, we cannot but feel that this would be carrying extrapolation too far. This feeling is due not merely to a recognition of the enormous complexity of living tissue but to the conviction that the whole trend of life, the whole process of building up more and more diverse and complex structures, which we call evolution, is the very opposite of that which we might expect from the laws of chance.
The Anatomy of Science (1926), 158-9.
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By the 18th century science had been so successful in laying bare the laws of nature that many thought there was nothing left to discover. Immutable laws prescribed the motion of every particle in the universe, exactly and forever: the task of the scientist was to elucidate the implications of those laws for any particular phenomenon of interest. Chaos gave way to a clockwork world. But the world moved on ...Today even our clocks are not made of clockwork. ... With the advent of quantum mechanics, the clockwork world has become a lottery. Fundamental events, such as the decay of a radioactive atom, are held to be determined by chance, not law.
Does God Play Dice?: The New Mathematics of Chaos (2002). xi.
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By these pleasures it is permitted to relax the mind with play, in turmoils of the mind, or when our labors are light, or in great tension, or as a method of passing the time. A reliable witness is Cicero, when he says (De Oratore, 2): 'men who are accustomed to hard daily toil, when by reason of the weather they are kept from their work, betake themselves to playing with a ball, or with knucklebones or with dice, or they may also contrive for themselves some new game at their leisure.'
The Book of Games of Chance (1663), final sentences, trans. Sydney Henry Gould. In Oysten Ore, The Gambling Scholar (1953), 241.
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Chance ... must be something more than the name we give to our ignorance.
In Science and Method (1908) translated by Francis Maitland (1914, 2007), 66.
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Chance alone is at the source of every innovaton, of all creation in the biosphere. Pure chance, only chance, absolute but blind liberty is at the root of the prodigious edifice that is evolution... It today is the sole conceivable hypothesis, the only one that squares with observed and tested fact.
Stating life began by the chance collision of particles of nucleic acid in the “prebiotic soup.”
In Jacques Monod and Austryn Wainhouse (trans.), Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1971), 112-113.
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Chance and necessity.
Title of Jacques Monod and Austryn Wainhouse (trans.), Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1971). See also the source quote by Diogenes Laertius, “Everything existing in the Universe is the fruit of chance and necessity.”
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Chance is the only source of true novelty.
Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature (1982), 58.
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Chance may be the pseudonym God uses when He doesn't want to sign His name.
As quoted, without citation, by Marcus Bach, 'Serendiptiy in the Business World', in The Rotarian (Oct 1981), 139, No. 4, 40. If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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Chance throws peculiar conditions in everyone's way. If we apply intelligence, patience and special vision, we are rewarded with new creative breakthroughs.
Told to his Harvard students. As quoted, without citation, by Marcus Bach, 'Serendiptiy in the Business World', in The Rotarian (Oct 1981), 139, No. 4, 40. If you know a primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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Chance... in the accommodation peculiar to sensorimotor intelligence, plays the same role as in scientific discovery. It is only useful to the genius and its revelations remain meaningless to the unskilled.
The Origin of Intelligence in the Child (1936), trans. Margaret Cook (1953), 303.
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Coastal sailing as long as it is perfectly safe and easy commands no magic. Overseas expeditions are invariably bound up with ceremonies and ritual. Man resorts to magic only where chance and circumstances are not fully controlled by knowledge.
Culture (1931), 636.
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De Morgan was explaining to an actuary what was the chance that a certain proportion of some group of people would at the end of a given time be alive; and quoted the actuarial formula, involving p [pi], which, in answer to a question, he explained stood for the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. His acquaintance, who had so far listened to the explanation with interest, interrupted him and exclaimed, 'My dear friend, that must be a delusion, what can a circle have to do with the number of people alive at a given time?'
Mathematical Recreations and Problems (1896), 180; See also De Morgan's Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 172.
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Do the day’s work. If it be to protect the rights of the weak, whoever objects, do it. If it be to help a powerful corporation better to serve the people, whatever the opposition, do that. Expect to be called a stand-patter, but don’t be a stand-patter. Expect to be called a demagogue, but don’t be a demagogue. Don’t hesitate to be as revolutionary as science. Don’t hesitate to be as reactionary as the multiplication table. Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong. Don’t hurry to legislate. Give administration a chance to catch up with legislation.
Speech (7 Jan 1914), to the State Senate of Massachusetts upon election as its president. Collected in Coolidge, Have Faith in Massachusetts (1919, 2004), 7-8.
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Do we really wish to replace the fateful but impartial workings of chance with the purposeful self-interested workings of human will?
Reported in 1981, expressing concern for the future of gene-splicing.
'Shaping Life in the Lab'. In Time (9 Mar 1981).
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Even today a good many distinguished minds seem unable to accept or even to understand that from a source of noise natural selection alone and unaided could have drawn all the music of the biosphere. In effect natural selection operates upon the products of chance and can feed nowhere else; but it operates in a domain of very demanding conditions, and from this domain chance is barred. It is not to chance but to these conditions that eveloution owes its generally progressive cource, its successive conquests, and the impresssion it gives of a smooth and steady unfolding.
In Jacques Monod and Austryn Wainhouse (trans.), Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1971), 118-119.
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Every lecture should state one main point and repeat it over and over, like a theme with variations. An audience is like a herd of cows, moving slowly in the direction they are being driven towards. If we make one point, we have a good chance that the audience will take the right direction; if we make several points, then the cows will scatter all over the field. The audience will lose interest and everyone will go back to the thoughts they interrupted in order to come to our lecture.
In 'Ten Lessons I Wish I Had Been Taught', Indiscrete Thoughts (2008), 196.
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Every phenomenon, however trifling it be, has a cause, and a mind infinitely powerful, and infinitely well-informed concerning the laws of nature could have foreseen it from the beginning of the ages. If a being with such a mind existed, we could play no game of chance with him; we should always lose.
Science and Method (1908), trans. Francis Maitland (1914), 65.
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Everything existing in the Universe is the fruit of chance and necessity.
Diogenes Laertius IX. This was taken by Jacques Monod as the title of his book. As given by Alan L. Mackay, A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1992, 1994), 71.
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For there was never yet philosoper
That could endure the toothache patiently,
However they have writ the style of gods,
And made a push at chance and sufferance.
Much Ado about Nothing (1598-9), V, i.
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Fortunately somewhere between chance and mystery lies imagination, the only thing that protects our freedom, despite the fact that people keep trying to reduce it or kill it off altogether.
My Last Breath? (1984), 174.
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Free will is to mind what chance is to matter.
Notebook M (begun July 1838). In Charles Darwin, Paul H. Barrett and Peter J. Gautrey, Charles Darwin’s Notebooks, 1836-1844 (1987, 2009), 536. Darwin inserted a note “M. Le Comte,” perhaps (thinks the Webmaster) as a reference to the latter’s philosophy.
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Further, the same Arguments which explode the Notion of Luck, may, on the other side, be useful in some Cases to establish a due comparison between Chance and Design: We may imagine Chance and Design to be, as it were, in Competition with each other, for the production of some sorts of Events, and many calculate what Probability there is, that those Events should be rather be owing to the one than to the other.
Doctrine of Chances (1718), Preface, v.
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Great healers, people of divine realization, do not cure by chance but by exact knowledge.
In Richard Alan Krieger, Civilization's Quotations (2002), 313.
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Heads I win, tails you lose.
The Professor at the Breakfast-Table (1860), 176.

How dare we speak of the laws of chance? Is not chance the antithesis of all law?
At the beginning of Calcul des probabilités. Quoted in Henry Poincaré, 'Chance,' essay, in James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (2000), Vol. 2, 1380.
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I am particularly concerned to determine the probability of causes and results, as exhibited in events that occur in large numbers, and to investigate the laws according to which that probability approaches a limit in proportion to the repetition of events. That investigation deserves the attention of mathematicians because of the analysis required. It is primarily there that the approximation of formulas that are functions of large numbers has its most important applications. The investigation will benefit observers in identifying the mean to be chosen among the results of their observations and the probability of the errors still to be apprehended. Lastly, the investigation is one that deserves the attention of philosophers in showing how in the final analysis there is a regularity underlying the very things that seem to us to pertain entirely to chance, and in unveiling the hidden but constant causes on which that regularity depends. It is on the regularity of the main outcomes of events taken in large numbers that various institutions depend, such as annuities, tontines, and insurance policies. Questions about those subjects, as well as about inoculation with vaccine and decisions of electoral assemblies, present no further difficulty in the light of my theory. I limit myself here to resolving the most general of them, but the importance of these concerns in civil life, the moral considerations that complicate them, and the voluminous data that they presuppose require a separate work.
Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1825), trans. Andrew I. Dale (1995), Introduction.
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I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can.
Letter to Asa Gray (22 May 1860). In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters (1892), 236.
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I find it [science] analytical, pretentious and superficial—largely because it does not address itself to dreams, chance, laughter, feelings, or paradox—in other words,—all the things I love the most.
My Last Sigh, trans. Abigail Israel (1983), 174.
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I sought excitement and, taking chances, I was all ready to fail in order to achieve something large.
On the official Raymond Loewry website. Also quoted in part in Society of Industrial Artists and Designers, Designer (1980).
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I think it would be a very rash presumption to think that nowhere else in the cosmos has nature repeated the strange experiment which she has performed on earth—that the whole purpose of creation has been staked on this one planet alone. It is probable that dotted through the cosmos there are other suns which provide the energy for life to attendant planets. It is apparent, however, that planets with just the right conditions of temperature, oxygen, water and atmosphere necessary for life are found rarely.
But uncommon as a habitable planet may be, non-terrestrial life exists, has existed and will continue to exist. In the absence of information, we can only surmise that the chance that it surpasses our own is as good as that it falls below our level.
As quoted by H. Gordon Garbedian in 'Ten Great Riddles That Call For Solution by Scientists', New York Times (5 Oct 1930), XX4. Garbedian gave no citation to a source for Shapley’s words. However, part of this quote is very similar to that of Sir Arthur Eddington: “It would indeed be rash to assume that nowhere else has Nature repeated the strange experiment which she has performed on the earth,” from 'Man’s Place in the Universe', Harper’s Magazine (Oct 1928), 157 573.
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If an event can be produced by a number n of different causes, the probabilities of the existence of these causes, given the event (prises de l'événement), are to each other as the probabilities of the event, given the causes: and the probability of each cause is equal to the probability of the event, given that cause, divided by the sum of all the probabilities of the event, given each of the causes.
'Mémoire sur la Probabilité des Causes par les Événements' (1774). In Oeuvres complètes de Laplace, 14 Vols. (1843-1912), Vol. 8, 29, trans. Charles Coulston Gillispie, Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827: A Life in Exact Science (1997), 16.
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If atoms do, by chance, happen to combine themselves into so many shapes, why have they never combined together to form a house or a slipper? By the same token, why do we not believe that if innumerable letters of the Greek alphabet were poured all over the market-place they would eventually happen to form the text of the Iliad?
The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, Book 2, Chapter 12, 'Apology for Raymond Sebond', trans. M. A. Screech (1991), 612.
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If one of these people, in whom the chance-worship of our remoter ancestors thus strangely survives, should be within reach of the sea when a heavy gale is blowing, let him betake himself to the shore and watch the scene. Let him note the infinite variety of form and size of the tossing waves out at sea; or against the curves of their foam-crested breakers, as they dash against the rocks; let him listen to the roar and scream of the shingle as it is cast up and torn down the beach; or look at the flakes of foam as they drive hither and thither before the wind: or note the play of colours, which answers a gleam of sunshine as it falls upon their myriad bubbles. Surely here, if anywhere, he will say that chance is supreme, and bend the knee as one who has entered the very penetralia of his divinity. But the man of science knows that here, as everywhere, perfect order is manifested; that there is not a curve of the waves, not a note in the howling chorus, not a rainbow-glint on a bubble, which is other than a necessary consequence of the ascertained laws of nature; and that with a sufficient knowledge of the conditions, competent physico-mathematical skill could account for, and indeed predict, every one of these 'chance' events.
'On the Reception of the Origin of Species'. In F. Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Including an Autobiographical Chapter (1888), Vol. 2, 200-1.
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If one were to define chance as the outcome of a random movement which interlocks with no causes, I should maintain that it does not exist at all, that it is a wholly empty term denoting nothing substantial.
The Consolation of Philosophy [before 524], Book V, trans. P. G. Walsh (1999), 97.
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If we use resources productively and take to heart the lessons learned from coping with the energy crisis, we face a future confronted only, as Pogo, once said, by insurmountable opportunities. The many crises facing us should be seen, then, not as threats, but as chances to remake the future so it serves all beings.
Utne Reader (Nov-Dec 1989).
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In that memorable year, 1822: Oersted, a Danish physicist, held in his hands a piece of copper wire, joined by its extremities to the two poles of a Volta pile. On his table was a magnetized needle on its pivot, and he suddenly saw (by chance you will say, but chance only favours the mind which is prepared) the needle move and take up a position quite different from the one assigned to it by terrestrial magnetism. A wire carrying an electric current deviates a magnetized needle from its position. That, gentlemen, was the birth of the modern telegraph.
Inaugural Address as newly appointed Professor and Dean (Sep 1854) at the opening of the new Faculté des Sciences at Lille (7 Dec 1854). In René Vallery-Radot, The Life of Pasteur, translated by Mrs. R. L. Devonshire (1919), 76.
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It is impossible for a Die, with such determin'd force and direction, not to fall on such determin'd side, only I don't know the force and direction which makes it fall on such determin'd side, and therefore I call it Chance, which is nothing but the want of art.... .
Of the Laws of Chance (1692), preface
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It is impossible to answer your question briefly; and I am not sure that I could do so, even if I wrote at some length. But I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide.
[Replying to query about his religious views]
Letter to a Dutch student (2 Apr 1873), in Charles Darwin and Sir Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1896), 276.
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It is in scientific honesty that I endorse the presentation of alternative theories for the origin of the universe, life and man in the science classroom. It would be an error to overlook the possibility that the universe was planned rather than happening by chance.
In letter to California State board of Education (14 Sep 1972).
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It is natural selection that gives direction to changes, orients chance, and slowly, progressively produces more complex structures, new organs, and new species. Novelties come from previously unseen association of old material. To create is to recombine.
'Evolution and Tinkering', Science (1977), 196, 1163.
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It would indeed be a great delusion, if we stated that those sports of Nature [we find] enclosed in rocks are there by chance or by some vague creative power. Ah, that would be superficial indeed! In reality, those shells, which once were alive in water and are now dead and decomposed, were made thus by time not Nature; and what we now find as very hard, figured stone, was once soft mud and which received the impression of the shape of a shell, as I have frequently demonstrated.
La vana speculazione disingannata del senso (1670), trans. Ezio Vaccari, 83-4.
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Man at last knows that he is alone in the unfeeling immensity of the universe, out of which he emerged only by chance. Neither his destiny nor his duty have been written down. The kingdom above or the darkness below: it is for him to choose.
Concluding remarks in Jacques Monod and Austryn Wainhouse (trans.), Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1972), 180.
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No anatomist ever discovered a system of organization, calculated to produce pain and disease; or, in explaining the parts of the human body, ever said, this is to irritate; this is to inflame; this duct is to convey the gravel to the kidneys; this gland to secrete the humour which forms the gout: if by chance he come at a part of which he knows not the use, the most he can say is, that it is useless; no one ever suspects that it is put there to incommode, to annoy, or torment.
The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy (1785), Vol. 1, 79.
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No isolated experiment, however significant in itself, can suffice for the experimental demonstration of any natural phenomenon; for the “one chance in a million” will undoubtedly occur, with no less and no more than its appropriate frequency, however surprised we may be that it should occur to us.
The Design of Experiments (1935), 16.
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Our challenge is to give what account we can of what becomes of life in the solar system, this corner of the universe that is our home; and, most of all, what becomes of men—all men, of all nations, colors, and creeds. This has become one world, a world for all men. It is only such a world that can now offer us life, and the chance to go on.
From speech given at an anti-war teach-in at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (4 Mar 1969) 'A Generation in Search of a Future', as edited by Ron Dorfman for Chicago Journalism Review, (May 1969).
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Quantitative work shows clearly that natural selection is a reality, and that, among other things, it selects Mendelian genes, which are known to be distributed at random through wild populations, and to follow the laws of chance in their distribution to offspring. In other words, they are an agency producing variation of the kind which Darwin postulated as the raw material on which selection acts.
'Natural Selection', Nature, 1929, 124, 444.
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Science is complex and chilling. The mathematical language of science is understood by very few. The vistas it presents are scary—an enormous universe ruled by chance and impersonal rules, empty and uncaring, ungraspable and vertiginous. How comfortable to turn instead to a small world, only a few thousand years old, and under God's personal; and immediate care; a world in which you are His peculiar concern.
The 'Threat' of Creationism. In Ashley Montagu (ed.), Science and Creationism (1984), 192.
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Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing. It is a matter of chance which we are in.
[Answer to question: You've said there is no reason to invoke God to light the blue touchpaper. Is our existence all down to luck?]
'Stephen Hawking: "There is no heaven; it's a fairy story"', interview in newspaper The Guardian (15 May 2011).
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Take care of your health. ... Imagine Hercules as oarsman in a rotten boat; what can he do there but by the very force of his stroke expedite the ruin of his craft. Take care of the timbers of your boat. ... The formation of right habits is essential to your permanent security. They diminish your chance of falling when assaulted, and they augment your chance of recovery when overthrown.
Concluding remark from 'An Address to Students of University College, London' (1869), in Fragments of Science for Unscientific People (1871), 105.
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The contents of this section will furnish a very striking illustration of the truth of a remark, which I have more than once made in my philosophical writings, and which can hardly be too often repeated, as it tends greatly to encourage philosophical investigations viz. That more is owing to what we call chance, that is, philosophically speaking, to the observation of events arising from unknown causes, than to any proper design, or pre-conceived theory in this business. This does not appear in the works of those who write synthetically upon these subjects; but would, I doubt not, appear very strikingly in those who are the most celebrated for their philosophical acumen, did they write analytically and ingenuously.
'On Dephlogisticated Air, and the Constitution of the Atmosphere', in The Discovery of Oxygen, Part I, Experiments by Joseph Priestley 1775 (Alembic Club Reprint, 1894), 5.
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The dice of God are always loaded.
[A fragment from a lost play of Sophocles, “Ever the dice of Zeus fall well.”]
A colloquial translation, presumably ironic, from the original Greek phrase (preceding it), as given in 'Compensation', collected in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1903), 102. The more literal translation of the original Greek is discussed in the added Notes section by Joseph Slater in The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson: First Series, Essays (1979), 234. Fragment translation from Paul Shorey, 'The Influence of Classics on American Literature', The Chautauquan (1906), 43, 129.
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The equations of dynamics completely express the laws of the historical method as applied to matter, but the application of these equations implies a perfect knowledge of all the data. But the smallest portion of matter which we can subject to experiment consists of millions of molecules, not one of which ever becomes individually sensible to us. We cannot, therefore, ascertain the actual motion of anyone of these molecules; so that we are obliged to abandon the strict historical method, and to adopt the statistical method of dealing with large groups of molecules … Thus molecular science teaches us that our experiments can never give us anything more than statistical information, and that no law derived from them can pretend to absolute precision. But when we pass from the contemplation of our experiments to that of the molecules themselves, we leave a world of chance and change, and enter a region where everything is certain and immutable.
'Molecules' (1873). In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 2, 374.
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The fundamental hypothesis of genetic epistemology is that there is a parallelism between the progress made in the logical and rational organization of knowledge and the corresponding formative psychological processes. With that hypothesis, the most fruitful, most obvious field of study would be the reconstituting of human history—the history of human thinking in prehistoric man. Unfortunately, we are not very well informed in the psychology of primitive man, but there are children all around us, and it is in studying children that we have the best chance of studying the development of logical knowledge, physical knowledge, and so forth.
'Genetic Epistemology', Columbia Forum (1969), 12, 4.
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The origin of an adaptive structure and the purposes it comes to fulfill are only chance combinations. Purposefulness is a very human conception for usefulness. It is usefulness looked at backwards. Hard as it is to imagine, inconceivably hard it may appear to many, that there is no direct relation between the origin of useful variations and the ends they come to serve, yet the modern zoologist takes his stand as a man of science on this ground. He may admit in secret to his father confessor, the metaphysician, that his poor intellect staggers under such a supposition, but he bravely carries forward his work of investigation along the only lines that he has found fruitful.
'For Darwin', The Popular Science Monthly (1909), 74, 380.
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The present state of the system of nature is evidently a consequence of what it was in the preceding moment, and if we conceive of an intelligence that at a given instant comprehends all the relations of the entities of this universe, it could state the respective position, motions, and general affects of all these entities at any time in the past or future. Physical astronomy, the branch of knowledge that does the greatest honor to the human mind, gives us an idea, albeit imperfect, of what such an intelligence would be. The simplicity of the law by which the celestial bodies move, and the relations of their masses and distances, permit analysis to follow their motions up to a certain point; and in order to determine the state of the system of these great bodies in past or future centuries, it suffices for the mathematician that their position and their velocity be given by observation for any moment in time. Man owes that advantage to the power of the instrument he employs, and to the small number of relations that it embraces in its calculations. But ignorance of the different causes involved in the production of events, as well as their complexity, taken together with the imperfection of analysis, prevents our reaching the same certainty about the vast majority of phenomena. Thus there are things that are uncertain for us, things more or less probable, and we seek to compensate for the impossibility of knowing them by determining their different degrees of likelihood. So it was that we owe to the weakness of the human mind one of the most delicate and ingenious of mathematical theories, the science of chance or probability.
'Recherches, 1º, sur l'Intégration des Équations Différentielles aux Différences Finies, et sur leur Usage dans la Théorie des Hasards' (1773, published 1776). In Oeuvres complètes de Laplace, 14 Vols. (1843-1912), Vol. 8, 144-5, trans. Charles Coulston Gillispie, Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827: A Life in Exact Science (1997), 26.
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The proof given by Wright, that non-adaptive differentiation will occur in small populations owing to “drift,” or the chance fixation of some new mutation or recombination, is one of the most important results of mathematical analysis applied to the facts of neo-mendelism. It gives accident as well as adaptation a place in evolution, and at one stroke explains many facts which puzzled earlier selectionists, notably the much greater degree of divergence shown by island than mainland forms, by forms in isolated lakes than in continuous river-systems.
Evolution: The Modern Synthesis (1942), 199-200.
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The word 'chance' then expresses only our ignorance of the causes of the phenomena that we observe to occur and to succeed one another in no apparent order. Probability is relative in part to this ignorance, and in part to our knowledge.
'Mémoire sur les Approximations des Formules qui sont Fonctions de Très Grands Nombres' (1783, published 1786). In Oeuvres complète de Laplace, 14 Vols. (1843-1912), Vol. 10, 296, trans. Charles Coulston Gillispie, Pierre-Simon Laplace 1749-1827: A Life in Exact Science (1997), 91.
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There must be some bond of union between mass and the chemical elements; and as the mass of a substance is ultimately expressed (although not absolutely, but only relatively) in the atom, a functional dependence should exist and be discoverable between the individual properties of the elements and their atomic weights. But nothing, from mushrooms to a scientific dependence can be discovered without looking and trying. So I began to look about and write down the elements with their atomic weights and typical properties, analogous elements and like atomic weights on separate cards, and soon this convinced me that the properties of the elements are in periodic dependence upon their atomic weights; and although I had my doubts about some obscure points, yet I have never doubted the universality of this law, because it could not possibly be the result of chance.
Principles of Chemistry (1905), Vol. 2, 18.
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Tho' there be no such Thing as Chance in the World; our Ignorance of the real Ccause of any Event has the same Influence on the Understanding, and begets a like Species of Belief or Opinion.
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748), 93.
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We know the laws of trial and error, of large numbers and probabilities. We know that these laws are part of the mathematical and mechanical fabric of the universe, and that they are also at play in biological processes. But, in the name of the experimental method and out of our poor knowledge, are we really entitled to claim that everything happens by chance, to the exclusion of all other possibilities?
From Nobel Prize Lecture (Dec 1974), 'The Coming Age of the Cell'. Collected in Jan Lindsten (ed.) Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1971-1980 (1992).
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What we still designate as chance, merely depends on a concatenation of circumstances, the internal connection and final causes of which we have as yet been unable to unravel.
Force and Matter (1884), 226.
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When one ponders on the tremendous journey of evolution over the past three billion years or so, the prodigious wealth of structures it has engendered, and the extraordinarily effective teleonomic performances of living beings from bacteria to man, one may well find oneself beginning to doubt again whether all this could conceiveably be the product of an enormous lottery presided over by natural selection, blindly picking the rare winners from among numbers drawn at random. [Nevertheless,] a detailed review of the accumulated modern evidence [shows] that this conception alone is compatible with the facts.
In Jacques Monod and Austryn Wainhouse (trans.), Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology (1971), 138.
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Who then can calculate the path of the molecule? how do we know that the creations of worlds are not determined by the fall of grains of sand?
Victor Hugo and Charles E. Wilbour (trans.), Les Misérables (1862), 41.
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Why is it that showers and even storms seem to come by chance, so that many people think it quite natural to pray for rain or fine weather, though they would consider it ridiculous to ask for an eclipse by prayer.
Science and Method (1908), trans. Francis Maitland (1914), 68.
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[T]here is little chance that aliens from two societies anywhere in the Galaxy will be culturally close enough to really 'get along.' This is something to ponder as you watch the famous cantina scene in Star Wars. ... Does this make sense, given the overwhelmingly likely situation that galactic civilizations differ in their level of evolutionary development by thousands or millions of years? Would you share drinks with a trilobite, an ourang-outang, or a saber-toothed tiger? Or would you just arrange to have a few specimens stuffed and carted off to the local museum?
Quoted in 'Do Aliens Exist in the Milky Way', PBS web page for WGBH Nova, 'Origins.'
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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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- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton