From Pierre Duhem’s “The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory” (1906)

pierre-duhem“Of most physical doctrines… what is lasting and fruitful in these is the logical work through which they are succeeded in classifying naturally a great number of laws by deducing them from a few principles; what is perishable and sterile is the labor undertaken to explain these principles in order to attach them to assumptions concerning the realities hiding underneath sensible appearances. Scientific progress has often been compared to a mounting tide; applied to the evolution of physical theories, this comparison seems to us very appropriate, and it may be pursued in further detail. Whoever casts a brief glance at the waves striking a beach does not see the tide mount; he sees a wave rise, run, uncurl itself, and cover a narrow strip of sand, then withdraw by leaving dry the terrain which it had seemed to conquer, a new wave follows, sometimes going a little farther than the preceding one, but also this superficial to-and-fro motion, another movement is produced, deeper, slower, imperceptible to the casual observer; it is a progressive movement continuing and coming of the waves is the faithful image of those attempts at explanation which arise only to be crumbled, which advance only to retreat; underneath there continues the slow and constant progress whose flow steadily conquers new lands, and guarantees to physical doctrines the continuity of a tradition.”

From Pierre Duhem’s “The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory” (1906)

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