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Observation is the active acquisition of information from a primary source. In living beings, observation employs the senses. In science, observation can also involve the recording of data via the use of instruments. The term may also refer to any data collected during the scientific activity.
- If a tree falls in a forest, and no-one is around to hear it, does it make a noise?
- Anonymous, but apparently originating in the twentieth century; a 1910 physics book asks "When a tree falls in a lonely forest, and no animal is near by to hear it, does it make a sound? Why?" Charles Riborg Mann, George Ransom Twiss, Physics (1910), p. 235. See also: If a tree falls in a forest.
- Whether if soul did not exist time would exist or not, is a question that may fairly be asked; for if there cannot be someone to count there cannot be anything that can be counted, so that evidently there cannot be number; for number is either what has been, or what can be, counted.
- Aristotle in: Martin C. Dillon Merleau-Ponty Vivant: The History of Albany's Rapp Road Community, SUNY Press, 1991, p. 31
- Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under thy observation in life.
- Marcus Aurelius, in Gabriel Deeds Eden's Legacy, Trafford Publishing, 2004, p. 132
- Supervision is also part of the process of building capacity and transferring knowledge. The five steps in teaching an employee new skills are preparation, explanation, showing, observation and supervision.
- Bruce Barton, in Marelize Görgens-Albino, Jody Zall Kusek Making Monitoring and Evaluation Systems Work: A Capacity Development Toolkit, World Bank Publications, 2009, p. 347
- The great extension of our experience in recent years has brought light to the insufficiency of our simple mechanical conceptions and, as a consequence, has shaken the foundation on which the customary interpretation of observation was based.
- Niels Bohr, "Atomic Physics and the Description of Nature" (1934)
- Perceptual reality is different for different species. In certain species it is a mode of observation, so what we call scientific fact is actually not ultimate truth, it is perceptual experience, and it's a mode of observation.
- Deepak Chopra, in Exclusive: Deepak Chopra Explores the Evolution of God, Forbes.com
- Words, as is well known, are the great foes of reality. I have been for many years a teacher of languages. It is an occupation which at length becomes fatal to whatever share of imagination, observation, and insight an ordinary person may be heir to. To a teacher of languages there comes a time when the world is but a place of many words and man appears a mere talking animal not much more wonderful than a parrot.
- Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes (1911), Pt. I
- Science is the observation of things possible, whether present or past; prescience is the knowledge of things which may come to pass, though but slowly.
- Leonardo da Vinci, The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (Richter, 1888) XIX Philosophical Maxims. Morals. Polemics and Speculations
- The way our group or class does things tends to determine the proper objects of attention, and thus prescribe the directions and limits of observation and memory.
- John Dewey (1916), Democracy and Education Section 2: Education as a Social Function
- The philosopher forms his principles from an infinity of particular observations. Most people adopt principles without thinking of the observations that have produced them, they believe the maxims exist, so to speak, by themselves. But the philosopher takes maxims from their source; he examines their origin; he knows their proper value, and he makes use of them only in so far as they suit him.
Truth is not for the philosopher a mistress who corrupts his imagination and whom he believes to be found everywhere; he contents himself with being able to unravel it where he can perceive it. He does not confound it with probability; he takes for true what is true, for false what is false, for doubtful what is doubtful, and probable what is only probable. He does more, and here you have a great perfection of the philosopher: when he has no reason by which to judge, he knows how to live in suspension of judgment...
The philosophical spirit is, then, a spirit of observation and exactness, which relates everything to true principles...
- Denis Diderot, L'Encyclopédie (1751-1766) Article on Philosophy, Vol. 25, p. 667
- A battle lost or won is easily described, understood, and appreciated, but the moral growth of a great nation requires reflection, as well as observation, to appreciate it.
- Frederick Douglass, in Philip Sheldon Foner, Robert J. Branha Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900, University of Alabama Press, 1998, p. 424
- It is also a good rule not to put overmuch confidence in the observational results that are put forward until they are confirmed by theory.
- Arthur Eddington, as quoted in "Annals of Science II-DNA" by Horace Freeland Judson in The New Yorker (4 December 1978), p. 132
- For the truth of the conclusions of physical science, observation is the supreme Court of Appeal. It does not follow that every item which we confidently accept as physical knowledge has actually been certified by the Court; our confidence is that it would be certified by the Court if it were submitted. But it does follow that every item of physical knowledge is of a form which might be submitted to the Court. It must be such that we can specify (although it may be impracticable to carry out) an observational procedure which would decide whether it is true or not. Clearly a statement cannot be tested by observation unless it is an assertion about the results of observation. Every item of physical knowledge must therefore be an assertion of what has been or would be the result of carrying out a specified observational procedure.
- Arthur Eddington, The Philosophy of Physical Science (1938), p. 9
- To me, photography is an art of observation. It's about finding something interesting in an ordinary place... I've found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.
- Elliott Erwitt, in Jill Charlotte Stanford, Robin L. Corey You Might Be a Cowgirl If . . .: A Guide to Life on the Range, Globe Pequot, 4 September 2012, p. 111
- Strategy requires thought, tactics require observation.
- Max Euwe, in Henry C. (Sandy) Waters III Sales - What A Concept!: A Guidebook for Sales Process Performance Improvement, Lulu.com, 2011, p. 11
- The philosophy behind much advertising is based on the old observation that every man is really two men - the man he is and the man he wants to be.
- William Feather, in Dictionary of Quotations, Wordsworth Editions, 1 January 1998, p. 125
- First we have an observation, then we have numbers that we measure, then we have a law which summarizes all the numbers. But the real glory of science is that we can find a way of thinking such that the law is evident.
- Richard Feynman: (1963). 26–3. Fermat's principle of least time in Chapter 26. Optics: The Principle of Least Time, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Volume I, Mainly Mechanics, Radiation, and Heat
- It is a trite but true observation, that examples work more forcibly on the mind than precepts.
- Henry Fielding Joseph Andrews (1742) Book I, Ch. 1
- At any one time there is a natural tendency among physicists to believe that we already know the essential ingredients of a comprehensive theory. But each time a new frontier of observation is broached we inevitably discover new phenomena which force us to modify substantially our previous conceptions. I believe this process to be unending, that the delights and challenges of unexpected discovery will continue always.
- Val Logsdon Fitch Nobel Prize Autobiography (1981).
- It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that others waste.
- Henry Ford, in The Speaker's Quote Book: Over 5,000 Illustrations and Quotations for All Occasions, Kregel Academic, 2009, p. 545
- Rhetoric and dialectics can't change what I have learned from observation and experience.
- J. Paul Getty, in As I See it: The Autobiography of J. Paul Getty, Getty Publications, 2003, p. 106
- When people endure a traumatic event, they are either defeated or made stronger. On Sept. 11, I told New Yorkers, 'I want you to emerge stronger from this.' My words were partially a hope and partially an observation that people in New York City handle big things better than little things. I could not be more proud of the way my city responded.
- Rudy Giuliani, in Giuliani: 9/11 was 'worst day' and 'the best day', USA Today, 9 September 2011
- Science is simply common sense at its best, that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.
- Thomas Huxley, in Mark Mitchell, Janina Jolley Research Design Explained, Cengage Learning, 12 February 2009, p. 22
- Reason, observation, and experience; the holy trinity of science.
- Robert Green Ingersoll, in Koh Longman Guide to SPA: A-Level Physics, Pearson Education South Asia, 2005, p. 75
- Early in life I learned, just through observation, that right always wins out over wrong. If a person has good intentions in his heart and wants to do the right thing, then there are certain ways that any obstacle can be overcome.
- Monte Irvin, in Monte Irvin Nice Guys Finish First: Chapter One: A Mission in Life, The Washington Post, 1996
- It's my observation that gardeners and gardening for a very long time have had to take a back seat. Architects are very famous; they've got huge projects. What goes on in and around them has been relegated to a very minor role.
- Robert Irwin, in The California Garden :At the Getty, roots hold fast, Los Angeles Times, 24 July 2008|
- Even scientific knowledge, if there is anything to it, is not a random observation of random objects; for the critical objectivity of significant knowledge is attained as a practice only philosophically in inner action.
- Karl Jaspers, in On My Philosophy. Marxists. Org
- Not observation of a duty but liberty itself is the pledge that assures fidelity.
- Ellen Keym, in Quotes about Fidelity, Quotations Book, p. 3
- We must trust to nothing but facts: these are presented to us by nature and cannot deceive. We ought, in every instance, to submit our reasoning to the test of experiment, and never to search for truth but by the natural road of experiment and observation.
- Antoine Lavoisier, in Carl C. Gaither, Alma E. Cavazos-Gaither Gaither's Dictionary of Scientific Quotations, Springer, 4 January 2012, p. 739
- And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
- Gospel of Luke, 17:21
- Scientists believe that nature is orderly and measurable— that natural laws, such as the law of gravity, do not change with time, and that a natural event, or phenomenon,can be understood more fully through observation. Scientists use all of their senses in making observations.
- Sylvia S. Mader, Biology (10th ed., 2010), Ch. 1. A View of Life
- It has become extremely questionable whether, in the flux of life, it is a genuinely worthwhile intellectual problem to seek to discover fixed and immutable ideas or absolutes. It is a more worthy intellectual task perhaps to learn to think dynamically and relationally rather than statically... When the empirical investigator glories in his refusal to go beyond the specialized observation dictated by the traditions of his discipline, be they ever so inclusive, he is making a virtue out of a defense mechanism which insures him against questioning his presuppositions.
- Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia (1929)
- It seems to me, when I see nature, that I see it ready made, completely written — but then, try to do it! All this proves that one must think of nothing but them [impressions]; it is by dint of observation and reflection that one makes discoveries.
- Claude Monet in 1864 letter to Frédéric Bazille from Honfleur, July 15, 1864; As cited in: Joyce Medina (1995) Cezanne and Modernism: The Poetics of Painting. p. 60
- Yeah. Yeah, that's right. Pregnant woman. Gunned her down. Bang. And y'know what? You watched me. You coulda changed the gun into steam or the bullets into mercury or the bottle into god damn snowflakes! You coulda teleported either of us to goddamn Australia...but you didn't lift a finger! You don't really give a damn about human beings. I've watched you. You never cared about what's her name, Janey Slater, even before you ditched her. Soon you won't be interested in Sally Jupiter's little girl, either. You're driftin' outta touch, Doc. You're turnin' into a flake. God help us all.
- The Comedian, Alan Moore Watchmen, Chapter II: Absent Friends, pg. 15
- Everything is literally entangled, it can all be communicated with and affected 'at a distance' because there is no distance, only a simulation of apparent separation which our limited consciousness feeds us second by second at 11 bits. The 'telepathy' which brings people together is no more or less supernatural or unlikely than the 'telepathy' which brings two of your fingers together when you think about it. Patience, participation and constant close observation of what's going on, on the inside and on the outside will soon make you a fine sorcerer, if that's what you want to be.
- Grant Morrison (2004), 
- Even if it had not been possible to reproduce the disease in animals and consequently to verify the hypothesis, this simple observation would have been sufficient to demonstrate the way in which the disease was propagated.
- Charles Jules Henry Nicole, in Physiology Or Medicine, Volume 2, Nobel Foundation, 1965
- My observation is that after one hundred and twenty years of modernisation since the opening of the country, present-day Japan is split between two opposite poles of ambiguity.
- Kenzaburo Oe, in Nobel Prize Laureates in Literature: Lagerkvist-Pontoppidan, Thomson Gale, 2007, p. 370
- Dans les champs de l'observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés.
- In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.
- Louis Pasteur Lecture, University of Lille (7 December 1854)
- Alternate translations of this or similar statements include:
- Chance favors the prepared mind.
- Fortune favors the prepared mind.
- In the field of observation, chance favors the prepared mind.
- Where observation is concerned, chance favors only the prepared mind.
- The only possible way of accounting for the laws of nature and for uniformity in general is to suppose them results of evolution. This supposes them not to be absolute, not to be obeyed precisely. It makes an element of indeterminacy, spontaneity, or absolute chance in nature. Just as, when we attempt to verify any physical law, we find our observations cannot be precisely satisfied by it, and rightly attribute the discrepancy to errors of observation, so we must suppose far more minute discrepancies to exist owing to the imperfect cogency of the law itself, to a certain swerving of the facts from any definite formula.
- Charles Sanders Peirce, The Architecture of Theories, (1891)
- One man's observation is another man's closed book or flight of fancy.
- Willard Van Orman Quine, in Andrew Bailey First Philosophy: Knowledge and Reality: Fundamental Problems and Readings in Philosophy, Broadview Press, 6 August 2004, p. 300
- Facts have to be discovered by observation, not by reasoning
- Bertrand Russell (1945) A History of Western Philosophy Book Three, Part I, Chapter X, Spinoza, p. 577
- Art that means anything in the life of a community must bear some relation to current interpretations of the mystery of the universe. Our rigid separation of the humanities and the sciences has temporarily left our art stranded or stammering and incoherent. Both art and science ought to be blended in our early education of our children's emotions and powers of observation, and that harmony carried forward in later education.
- Dora Russell The Right to Be Happy (1927) Ch. V, p. 235
- Most, if not all, of the great ideas of modern mathematics have had their origin in observation.
- James Joseph Sylvester. "A Plea for the Mathematician," Nature, Vol. 1, p. 238; Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2, pp. 655, 656.
- Much of my work in this period was concerned with exploring the logic of economic models, but also with attempting to reconcile the models with every day observation.
- Joseph Stiglitz, in Les Prix Nobel, Imprimerie Royale., 2001, p. 454
- The Artist is he who detects and applies the law from observation of the works of Genius, whether of man or Nature. The Artisan is he who merely applies the rules which others have detected.
- Henry David Thoreau, in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Princeton University Press, 1980, p. 328
- None can be an impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage ground of what we should call voluntary poverty.
- Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854), “Economy”
- My observation is that whenever one person is found adequate to the discharge of a duty... it is worse executed by two persons, and scarcely done at all if three or more are employed therein.
- George Washington, in The writings of George Washington, American Stationers Co., 1836, p. 301
- The gap between our feelings and our social observation is dangerously wide.
- Raymond Williams Realism and the Contemporary Novel (1961): The Long Revolution
- Surely it is time to examine into the meaning of words and the nature of things, and to arrive at simple facts, not received upon the dictum of learned authorities, but upon attentive personal observation of what is passing around us.
- Frances Wright, in Fanny Wright Unmasked by Her Own Pen, 1850, p. 5
- Whether we consider Nazi Germany or Abu Ghraib prison, there were many people who observed what was happening and said nothing. At Abu Ghraib, one photo shows two soldiers smiling before a pyramid of naked prisoners while a dozen other soldiers stand around watching passively. If you observe such abuses and don’t say, “This is wrong! Stop it!” you give tacit approval to continue. You are part of the silent majority that makes evil deeds more acceptable.
- Philip Zimbardo The Banality of Heroism in The Greater Good (Fall/Winter 2006/2007), co-written with Zeno Franco