Thomas Young on modes of scientific inquiry

Wave diffraction illustration by Thomas Young

Wave diffraction illustration by Thomas Young
Image credit: Michael Richmond's Physics 312 workshop notes

The synthetical order of proceeding, from simple and general principles, to their more intricate combinations in particular cases, is by far the most compendious for conveying information with regard to sciences that are at all referable to certain fundamental laws. For these laws being once established, each fact, as soon as it is known, assumes its place in the system as is retained in the memory by its relation to the rest as a connecting link. In the analytical mode, on the contrary, which is absolutely necessary for the first investigation of truth, we are obliged to begin by collecting a number of insulated circumstances, which lead us back by degrees to the knowledge of original principles, but which, until we arrive at those principles, are merely a burden to the memory. For the phenomena of nature resemble the scattered leaves of the Sibylline prophecies ; a word only, or a single syllable, is written on each leaf, which, when separately considered, conveys no instruction to the mind ; but when, by the labour of patient investigation, every fragment is replaced in its appropriate connexion, the whole begins at once to speak a perspicuous and a harmonious language.
Thomas Young in his introduction to A Course of Lectures on Natural Philosophy and the Mechanical Arts, (1807). Available in Thomas Young and Philip Kelland, A Course of Lectures on Natural Philosophy and the Mechanical Arts, (London: Taylor and Walton, 1845), p. 7. Cited in part by Andrew Robinson in The Last Man Who Knew Everything: Thomas Young. The Anonymous Polymath Who Proved Newton Wrong, Explained How We See, Cured the Sick, and Deciphered the Rosetta Stone, Among Other Feats of Genius, (New York: Pi Press, 2005), p. 113.

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"The synthetical order of proceeding"
Thomas Young Posted on behalf of on Monday, January 25th, 2010 under Quotations.

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