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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index B > János Bolyai Quotes

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János Bolyai
(15 Dec 1802 - 27 Jan 1860)

Hungarian mathematician.

Science Quotes by János Bolyai (2 quotes)

~~[Misattributed ?]~~ Mathematical discoveries, like springtime violets in the woods, have their season which no human can hasten or retard.
— János Bolyai
Webmaster believes this quote is likely a misattributed paraphrase. The subject quote is as given in Israel Kleiner, 'Thinking the Unthinkable: The Story of Complex Numbers (with a Moral)', Mathematics Teacher (Oct 1988), 81, No. 7, 590. In Kleiner’s paper, alongside the quote is a citation, thus: “(Kline 1972)?” Notice the appended question mark. The reference at the end of the paper gives: Morris Kline, Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times (1972), but without page number. Webmaster checked a later edition, Vol. 3 (1990), 861, in which Kline has an epigraph, with different wording about violets, attributed - not to János - but to his father, “Wolfgang Bolyai” (who is also known as Farkas Bolyai). Translator Abe Shenitzer wrote an ambiguous passage in Herbert Meschkowski, NonEuclidean Geometry (1964), 33. In a discussion posted in the NCTM online Math Forum in 1998, Shenitzer clarified that the proper reading is that the “violet talk” is a simile used in advice given by the father to his son. Note that in the passage, János (Johann/John) reports about that advice in narrative form. Thus, one should also note that even in the original language, perhaps the father’s words are not verbatim. See Farkas Bolyai Quotes on another page of this website.
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When you, my dear Father, see them, you will understand; at present I can say nothing except this: that out of nothing I have created a strange new universe. All that I have sent you previously is like a house of cards in comparison with a tower.
— János Bolyai
Referring to his creation of a non-euclidean geometry, in a letter (3 Nov 1823) to his father, Farkas Bolyai (in Hungarian). Quoted, as a translation, in Marvin J. Greenberg, Euclidean and Non-Euclidean Geometries: Development and History (1993), 163
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Quotes by others about János Bolyai (4)

[Bolyai’s Science Absolute of Space is] the most extraordinary two dozen pages in the history of thought!
In János Bolyai, Science Absolute of Space, translated from the Latin by George Bruce Halsted (1896), Translator's Introduction, xviii.
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[Janos] Bolyai when in garrison with cavalry officers, was provoked by thirteen of them and accepted all their challenges on condition that he be permitted after each duel to play a bit on his violin. He came out victor from his thirteen duels, leaving his thirteen adversaries on the square.
In János Bolyai, Science Absolute of Space, translated from the Latin by George Bruce Halsted (1896), Translator's Introduction, xxix.
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The profound mathematical ability of Bolyai János showed itself physically not only in his handling of the violin, where he was a master, but also of arms, where he was unapproachable.
In János Bolyai, Science Absolute of Space, translated from the Latin by George Bruce Halsted (1896), Translator's Introduction, xxix. [Bolyai was the victor in many duels. —Webmaster]
Science quotes on:  |  Ability (162)  |  Arm (82)  |  Arms (37)  |  Master (182)  |  Mathematicians and Anecdotes (141)  |  Mathematics (1395)  |  Physical (518)  |  Profound (105)  |  Show (353)  |  Violin (6)

Bolyai [Janos] projected a universal language for speech as we have it for music and mathematics.
In János Bolyai, Science Absolute of Space, translated from the Latin by George Bruce Halsted (1896), Translator's Introduction, xxix.
Science quotes on:  |  Language (308)  |  Mathematicians and Anecdotes (141)  |  Mathematics (1395)  |  Music (133)  |  Project (77)  |  Speech (66)  |  Universal (198)

See also:
  • 15 Dec - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Bolyai's birth.

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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