Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

The hierarchy of facts

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Henri Poincaré

What I have attempted to explain…is how the scientist is to set about making a selection of the innumerable facts that are offered to his curiosity, since he is compelled to make a selection, if only by the natural infirmity of his mind, though a selection is always a sacrifice…

There is a hierarchy of facts. Some are without any positive bearing, and teach us nothing but themselves. The scientist who ascertains them learns nothing but facts, and becomes no better able to foresee new facts. Such facts, it seems, occur but once, and are not destined to be repeated.

There are, on the other hand, facts that give a large return, each of which teaches us a new law. And since he is obliged to make a selection, it is to these latter facts that the scientist must devote himself.

No doubt this classification is relative, and arises from the frailty of our mind…No doubt a vaster and a keener mind than ours would judge otherwise. But that matters little; it is not this superior mind that we have to use, but our own.

Henri Poincaré, Science and Method

Written by nevalalee

September 17, 2016 at 7:30 am

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