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Algebra Quotes (26 quotes)
Algebraical Quotes

Thomasina: Every week I plot your equations dot for dot, x’s against y’s in all manner of algebraical relation, and every week they draw themselves as commonplace geometry, as if the world of forms were nothing but arcs and angles. God’s truth, Septimus, if there is an equation for a curve like a bell, there must be an equation for one like a bluebell, and if a bluebell, why not a rose? Do we believe nature is written in numbers?
Septimus: We do.
Thomasina: Then why do your shapes describe only the shapes of manufacture?
Septimus: I do not know.
Thomasina: Armed thus, God could only make a cabinet.
In the play, Acadia (1993), Scene 3, 37.
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[At a musical concert:]
...the music's pure algebra of enchantment.
In Louis Untermeyer, Modern American Poetry (1962), 430.
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Algebra applies to the clouds.
Victor Hugo and Charles E. Wilbour (trans.), Les Misérables (1862), 41.
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All the modern higher mathematics is based on a calculus of operations, on laws of thought. All mathematics, from the first, was so in reality; but the evolvers of the modern higher calculus have known that it is so. Therefore elementary teachers who, at the present day, persist in thinking about algebra and arithmetic as dealing with laws of number, and about geometry as dealing with laws of surface and solid content, are doing the best that in them lies to put their pupils on the wrong track for reaching in the future any true understanding of the higher algebras. Algebras deal not with laws of number, but with such laws of the human thinking machinery as have been discovered in the course of investigations on numbers. Plane geometry deals with such laws of thought as were discovered by men intent on finding out how to measure surface; and solid geometry with such additional laws of thought as were discovered when men began to extend geometry into three dimensions.
Lectures on the Logic of Arithmetic (1903), Preface, 18-19.
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As for methods I have sought to give them all the rigour that one requires in geometry, so as never to have recourse to the reasons drawn from the generality of algebra.
Cours d'analyse (1821), Preface, trans. Ivor Grattan-Gulnness.
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As to the need of improvement there can be no question whilst the reign of Euclid continues. My own idea of a useful course is to begin with arithmetic, and then not Euclid but algebra. Next, not Euclid, but practical geometry, solid as well as plane; not demonstration, but to make acquaintance. Then not Euclid, but elementary vectors, conjoined with algebra, and applied to geometry. Addition first; then the scalar product. Elementary calculus should go on simultaneously, and come into vector algebraic geometry after a bit. Euclid might be an extra course for learned men, like Homer. But Euclid for children is barbarous.
Electro-Magnetic Theory (1893), Vol. 1, 148. In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 130.
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Astronomy, that micography of heaven, is the most magnificent of the sciences. ... Astronomy has its clear side and its luminous side; on its clear side it is tinctured with algebra, on its luminous side with poetry.
In Victor Hugo and Lorenzo O'Rourke (trans.) Victor Hugo's Intellectual Autobiography: (Postscriptum de ma vie) (1907), 237-8.
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Chemistry has the same quickening and suggestive influence upon the algebraist as a visit to the Royal Academy, or the old masters may be supposed to have on a Browning or a Tennyson. Indeed it seems to me that an exact homology exists between painting and poetry on the one hand and modern chemistry and modern algebra on the other. In poetry and algebra we have the pure idea elaborated and expressed through the vehicle of language, in painting and chemistry the idea enveloped in matter, depending in part on manual processes and the resources of art for its due manifestation.
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I do not believe there is anything useful which men can know with exactitude that they cannot know by arithmetic and algebra.
Oeuvres, Vol. 2, 292g. Trans. J. L. Heilbron, Electricity in the 17th and 18th Centuries: A Study of Early Modern Physics (1979), 42.
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I had a dislike for [mathematics], and ... was hopelessly short in algebra. ... [One extraordinary teacher of mathematics] got the whole year's course into me in exactly six [after-school] lessons of half an hour each. And how? More accurately, why? Simply because he was an algebra fanatic—because he believed that algebra was not only a science of the utmost importance, but also one of the greatest fascination. ... [H]e convinced me in twenty minutes that ignorance of algebra was as calamitous, socially and intellectually, as ignorance of table manners—That acquiring its elements was as necessary as washing behind the ears. So I fell upon the book and gulped it voraciously. ... To this day I comprehend the binomial theorem.
In Prejudices: third series (1922), 261-262.
For a longer excerpt, see H. L. Mencken's Recollections of School Algebra.
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I remember my first look at the great treatise of Maxwell’s when I was a young man… I saw that it was great, greater and greatest, with prodigious possibilities in its power… I was determined to master the book and set to work. I was very ignorant. I had no knowledge of mathematical analysis (having learned only school algebra and trigonometry which I had largely forgotten) and thus my work was laid out for me. It took me several years before I could understand as much as I possibly could. Then I set Maxwell aside and followed my own course. And I progressed much more quickly… It will be understood that I preach the gospel according to my interpretation of Maxwell.
From translations of a letter (24 Feb 1918), cited in Paul J. Nahin, Oliver Heaviside: The Life, Work, and Times of an Electrical Genius of the Victorian Age (2002), 24. Nahin footnotes that the words are not verbatim, but are the result of two translations. Heaviside's original letter in English was quoted, translated in to French by J. Bethenode, for the obituary he wrote, "Oliver Heaviside", in Annales des Posies Telegraphs (1925), 14, 521-538. The quote was retranslated back to English in Nadin's book. Bethenode footnoted that he made the original translation "as literally as possible in order not to change the meaning." Nadin assures that the retranslation was done likewise. Heaviside studyied Maxwell's two-volume Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism.
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I was just going to say, when I was interrupted, that one of the many ways of classifying minds is under the heads of arithmetical and algebraical intellects. All economical and practical wisdom is an extension or variation of the following arithmetical formula: 2+2=4. Every philosophical proposition has the more general character of the expression a+b=c. We are mere operatives, empirics, and egotists, until we learn to think in letters instead of figures.
The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1858), 1.
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I was unable to devote myself to the learning of this al-jabr [algebra] and the continued concentration upon it, because of obstacles in the vagaries of Time which hindered me; for we have been deprived of all the people of knowledge save for a group, small in number, with many troubles, whose concern in life is to snatch the opportunity, when Time is asleep, to devote themselves meanwhile to the investigation and perfection of a science; for the majority of people who imitate philosophers confuse the true with the false, and they do nothing but deceive and pretend knowledge, and they do not use what they know of the sciences except for base and material purposes; and if they see a certain person seeking for the right and preferring the truth, doing his best to refute the false and untrue and leaving aside hypocrisy and deceit, they make a fool of him and mock him.
A. P. Youschkevitch and B. A. Rosenfeld, 'Al-Khayyami', in C. C. Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1973), Vol. 7, 324.
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If you could stop every atom in its position and direction, and if your mind could comprehend all the actions thus suspended, then if you were really, really good at algebra you could write the formula for all the future; and although nobody can be so clever as to do it, the formula must exist just as if one could.
Spoken by Thomasina in Arcadia (1993), Act I, Scene 1, 13.
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In fact, Gentlemen, no geometry without arithmetic, no mechanics without geometry... you cannot count upon success, if your mind is not sufficiently exercised on the forms and demonstrations of geometry, on the theories and calculations of arithmetic ... In a word, the theory of proportions is for industrial teaching, what algebra is for the most elevated mathematical teaching.
... a l'ouverture du cours de mechanique industrielle á Metz (1827), 2-3, trans. Ivor Grattan-Guinness.
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It is not always the most brilliant speculations nor the choice of the most exotic materials that is most profitable. I prefer Monsieur de Reaumur busy exterminating moths by means of an oily fleece; or increasing fowl production by making them hatch without the help of their mothers, than Monsieur Bemouilli absorbed in algebra, or Monsieur Leibniz calculating the various advantages and disadvantages of the possible worlds.
Spectacle, 1, 475. Quoted in Camille Limoges, 'Noel-Antoine Pluche', in C. C. Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1974 ), Vol. 11, 43.
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It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly.
Feynman Lectures on Gravitation, edited by Brian Hatfield (2002), 137.
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My [algebraic] methods are really methods of working and thinking; this is why they have crept in everywhere anonymously.
Letter to H. Hasse (1931). As quoted in Israel Kleiner, A History of Abstract Algebra (2007), 100. The author used the quote to remark on Noether’s widespread influence, either directly or indirectly, for the introduction of algebra (her specialty) or its terminology into a variety of mathematical fields in the twentieth century.
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No one for a moment can pretend that printing is so great a discovery as writing, or algebra as a language.
Lothair (1879), preface, xvii.
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Of possible quadruple algebras the one that had seemed to him by far the most beautiful and remarkable was practically identical with quaternions, and that he thought it most interesting that a calculus which so strongly appealed to the human mind by its intrinsic beauty and symmetry should prove to be especially adapted to the study of natural phenomena. The mind of man and that of Nature’s God must work in the same channels.
As quoted in W. E. Byerly (writing as a Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, but a former student at a Peirce lecture on Hamilton's new calculus of quaternions), 'Benjamin Peirce: II. Reminiscences', The American Mathematical Monthly (Jan 1925), 32, No. 1, 6.
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Oh these mathematicians make me tired! When you ask them to work out a sum they take a piece of paper, cover it with rows of A’s, B’s, and X's and Y’s … scatter a mess of flyspecks over them, and then give you an answer that’s all wrong!
Matthew Josephson, Edison (1959), 283.
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The application of algebra to geometry ... has immortalized the name of Descartes, and constitutes the greatest single step ever made in the progress of the exact sciences.
In An Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy (1865), 531.
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The same algebraic sum of positive and negative charges in the nucleus, when the arithmetical sum is different, gives what I call “isotopes” or “isotopic elements,” because they occupy the same place in the periodic table. They are chemically identical, and save only as regards the relatively few physical properties which depend upon atomic mass directly, physically identical also. Unit changes of this nuclear charge, so reckoned algebraically, give the successive places in the periodic table. For any one “place” or any one nuclear charge, more than one number of electrons in the outer-ring system may exist, and in such a case the element exhibits variable valency. But such changes of number, or of valency, concern only the ring and its external environment. There is no in- and out-going of electrons between ring and nucleus.
Concluding paragraph of 'Intra-atomic Charge', Nature (1913), 92, 400. Collected in Alfred Romer, Radiochemistry and the Discovery of Isotopes (1970), 251-252.
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The teacher manages to get along still with the cumbersome algebraic analysis, in spite of its difficulties and imperfections, and avoids the smooth infinitesimal calculus, although the eighteenth century shyness toward it had long lost all point.
Elementary Mathematics From an Advanced Standpoint (1908). 3rd edition (1924), trans. E. R. Hedrick and C. A. Noble (1932), Vol. 1, 155.
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Two kinds of symbol must surely be distinguished. The algebraic symbol comes naked into the world of mathematics and is clothed with value by its masters. A poetic symbol—like the Rose, for Love, in Guillaume de Lorris—comes trailing clouds of glory from the real world, clouds whose shape and colour largely determine and explain its poetic use. In an equation, x and y will do as well as a and b; but the Romance of the Rose could not, without loss, be re-written as the Romance of the Onion, and if a man did not see why, we could only send him back to the real world to study roses, onions, and love, all of them still untouched by poetry, still raw.
C.S. Lewis and E.M. Tillyard, The Personal Heresy: A Controversy (1936), 97.
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We may always depend on it that algebra, which cannot be translated into good English and sound common sense, is bad algebra.
In Common Sense in the Exact Sciences (1885), 21.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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