A passion for research

As he himself was to write in a text entitled La philosophie de ma vie [My life philosophy] drafted between 1986 and 1988 and published in particular in his La passion de la recherche [The passion for research] in 2001, Maurice Allais’s life was dominated by the consuming passion for research which filled him throughout his adult life and motivated all his scientific work.

“Whatever the field of application, my whole life has been dominated by the thirst to know more, by the passion of research. I have felt this passion since my early youth; it has since formed the very foundation of my entire existence (…)

“In fact, there is hardly any greater satisfaction for the researcher than that which follows from the achievement of a vast synthesis between elements which at first seemed disparate or contradictory, or the display of new relationships between facts which seemed to have no connection, of regularities previously unrecognized, of invariant relationships in space and time.

 “However such a synthesis can only result from patient and often unrewarding effort. (…)

“The ultimate goal of such an approach is the attainment of a reciprocal and coherent symbiosis between theory and observed data. (…)

 “Certainly, nothing is comparable to the inextinguishable passion for research (…) In reality, nothing comes close to the satisfaction of this construction, the ineffable euphoria of innovation and discovery.”

 (Extracts from My life philosophy

The American Economist, vol. XXXIII, n° 2, fall 1989, pp. 3-17)

The basic principles underlying Maurice Allais’s scientific approach

Maurice Allais’s approach to science, used in all his work, in economics as well as in physics, “has always been based on a twofold conviction:

  • “the conviction that, without theory, knowledge inevitably remain confused and that an accumulation of facts only constitutes a chaotic and unavoidably incomprehensible aggregate;
  • “and the even stronger conviction that a theory which cannot be confronted with the facts or which has not been verified quantitatively by observed data is, in fact, devoid of any scientific value.”

In his view, “all science is based on models, and every scientific model comprises three distinct stages:

  • “statement of well-defined hypotheses ;
  • “deduction of all the consequences of these hypotheses, and nothing but these consequences;
  • “confrontation of these consequences with observed data.”

“When neither the hypotheses nor the implications of a theory can be confronted with the real world, that theory is devoid of any scientific interest.”

“Submission to observed or experimental data is the golden rule which dominates any scientific discipline.”

(Extracts from the Nobel Lecture delivered 9th December 1988 before the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences  – Nobel Foundation, 1988)

“The first principle of the scientific process is that of an absolute predominance of observed facts over theoretical analyses. (…)

“The second principle of the scientific process is an indispensable critical mind. (…)

“The third principle of the scientific process is a clear understanding of the nature of theories.

“A contrast is often made between theory and practice. (…) Such opposition is completely unjustified, for a theory is valid only insofar as it provides a condensed representation of reality. (…)

“In fact two perversions have constantly hampered the development of science: the abuse of mathematics and the dogmatic tyranny of “established truths”. (…)”

(Extracts from “ The scientific training ”

In  Advances in Econometrics, Income Distribution and Scientifical Methodology – Essays in honor of Camilo Dagum, Springer-Verlag, 1999, pp. 321-330)