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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index D > Edsger W. Dijkstra Quotes

Edsger W. Dijkstra
(11 May 1930 - 7 Aug 2002)

who was a pioneer of theoretical computer science, particularly influencing the use structured programming.

Science Quotes by Edsger W. Dijkstra (31 quotes)

About the use of language: it is impossible to sharpen a pencil with a blunt axe. It is equally vain to try to do it with ten blunt axes instead.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Science quotes on:  |  Axe (12)  |  Blunt (3)  |  Equally (18)  |  Impossible (68)  |  Instead (12)  |  Language (155)  |  Pencil (7)  |  Sharpen (7)  |  Try (103)  |  Vain (26)

Besides a mathematical inclination, an exceptionally good mastery of one’s native tongue is the most vital asset of a competent programmer.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes, biology is about microscopes or chemistry is about beakers and test tubes. Science is not about tools. It is about how we use them, and what we find out when we do.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
In G. Michael Schneider, Judith L. Gersting, Sara Baase, An invitation to Computer Science: Java version (2000), 2.
Science quotes on:  |  Astronomy (175)  |  Computer Science (10)  |  Telescope (74)

Do only what only you can do.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Elegance is not a dispensable luxury but a quality that decides between success and failure.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Science quotes on:  |  Decide (25)  |  Dispense (7)  |  Elegance (20)  |  Failure (118)  |  Luxury (12)  |  Quality (65)  |  Success (202)

For me, the first challenge for computing science is to discover how to maintain order in a finite, but very large, discrete universe that is intricately intertwined. And a second, but not less important challenge is how to mould what you have achieved in solving the first problem, into a teachable discipline: it does not suffice to hone your own intellect (that will join you in your grave), you must teach others how to hone theirs. The more you concentrate on these two challenges, the clearer you will see that they are only two sides of the same coin: teaching yourself is discovering what is teachable.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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FORTRAN —’the infantile disorder’—, by now nearly 20 years old, is hopelessly inadequate for whatever computer application you have in mind today: it is now too clumsy, too risky, and too expensive to use. PL/I —’the fatal disease’— belongs more to the problem set than to the solution set. It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration. The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal offence. APL is a mistake, carried through to perfection. It is the language of the future for the programming techniques of the past: it creates a new generation of coding bums.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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FORTRAN, ‘the infantile disorder’, by now nearly 20 years old, is hopelessly inadequate for whatever computer application you have in mind today: it is now too clumsy, too risky, and too expensive to use.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Science quotes on:  |  Application (117)  |  Clumsy (4)  |  Computer (84)  |  Disorder (19)  |  Expensive (5)  |  Fortran (3)  |  Hopelessly (3)  |  Inadequate (13)  |  Infantile (4)  |  Mind (544)  |  Nearly (19)  |  Old (104)  |  Risky (4)  |  Today (86)  |  Year (214)

How do we convince people that in programming simplicity and clarity–in short: what mathematicians call ‘elegance’–are not a dispensable luxury, but a crucial matter that decides between success and failure?
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Science quotes on:  |  Call (68)  |  Clarity (31)  |  Convince (17)  |  Crucial (8)  |  Decide (25)  |  Dispense (7)  |  Elegance (20)  |  Failure (118)  |  Luxury (12)  |  Mathematician (177)  |  Matter (270)  |  People (269)  |  Program (32)  |  Short (31)  |  Simplicity (126)  |  Success (202)

How do we tell truths that might hurt?
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Science quotes on:  |  Hurt (11)  |  Tell (67)  |  Truth (750)

I mean, if 10 years from now, when you are doing something quick and dirty, you suddenly visualize that I am looking over your shoulders and say to yourself ‘Dijkstra would not have liked this’, well, that would be enough immortality for me.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Science quotes on:  |  Dirty (7)  |  Immortality (9)  |  Mean (63)  |  Quick (7)  |  Say (126)  |  Shoulder (13)  |  Suddenly (4)  |  Visualize (5)  |  Year (214)

I realized that my prior projects were just finger warm-ups. Now I have to tackle complexity itself. But it took long, before I had assembled the courage to do so.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Science quotes on:  |  Assemble (8)  |  Complexity (80)  |  Courage (39)  |  Finger (38)  |  Long (95)  |  Prior (5)  |  Project (22)  |  Realize (43)  |  Tackle (4)

If in physics there’s something you don’t understand, you can always hide behind the uncharted depths of nature. You can always blame God. You didn’t make it so complex yourself. But if your program doesn’t work, there is no one to hide behind. You cannot hide behind an obstinate nature. If it doesn’t work, you’ve messed up.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Science quotes on:  |  Behind (25)  |  Blame (17)  |  Complex (78)  |  Depth (32)  |  God (454)  |  Hide (36)  |  Mess (10)  |  Nature (1029)  |  Obstinate (4)  |  Physics (301)  |  Program (32)  |  Uncharted (5)  |  Understand (189)  |  Work (457)

In the good old days physicists repeated each other’s experiments, just to be sure. Today they stick to FORTRAN, so that they can share each other’s programs, bugs included.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Science quotes on:  |  Bug (10)  |  Experiment (543)  |  Fortran (3)  |  Good (228)  |  Include (27)  |  Old (104)  |  Physicist (130)  |  Program (32)  |  Repeat (27)  |  Share (30)  |  Stick (19)  |  Today (86)

Object-oriented programming is an exceptionally bad idea which could only have originated in California.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Science quotes on:  |  Bad (78)  |  California (7)  |  Exceptionally (3)  |  Idea (440)  |  Originate (14)  |  Program (32)

Probably I am very naive, but I also think I prefer to remain so, at least for the time being and perhaps for the rest of my life.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Science quotes on:  |  Least (43)  |  Life (917)  |  Naive (8)  |  Prefer (18)  |  Probably (21)  |  Remain (77)  |  Rest (64)  |  Think (205)  |  Time (439)

Program testing can be a very effective way to show the presence of bugs, but is hopelessly inadequate for showing their absence.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Science quotes on:  |  Absence (16)  |  Bug (10)  |  Effective (20)  |  Hopelessly (3)  |  Inadequate (13)  |  Presence (26)  |  Program (32)  |  Show (55)  |  Test (96)

Programming is one of the most difficult branches of applied mathematics; the poorer mathematicians had better remain pure mathematicians.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Science quotes on:  |  Applied Mathematics (10)  |  Better (131)  |  Branch (61)  |  Difficult (62)  |  Mathematician (177)  |  Poor (46)  |  Program (32)  |  Pure (62)  |  Remain (77)

Simplicity is prerequisite for reliability.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Science quotes on:  |  Prerequisite (4)  |  Reliability (14)  |  Simplicity (126)

The competent programmer is fully aware of the limited size of his own skull. He therefore approaches his task with full humility, and avoids clever tricks like the plague.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Science quotes on:  |  Approach (33)  |  Avoid (34)  |  Aware (18)  |  Clever (14)  |  Competent (10)  |  Full (38)  |  Fully (11)  |  Humility (20)  |  Limit (86)  |  Plague (34)  |  Programmer (3)  |  Size (47)  |  Skull (5)  |  Task (68)  |  Trick (19)

The question of whether Machines Can Think ... is about as relevant as the question of whether Submarines Can Swim.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Science quotes on:  |  Machine (133)  |  Question (315)  |  Relevant (3)  |  Submarine (9)  |  Swim (12)  |  Think (205)

The required techniques of effective reasoning are pretty formal, but as long as programming is done by people that don’t master them, the software crisis will remain with us and will be considered an incurable disease. And you know what incurable diseases do: they invite the quacks and charlatans in, who in this case take the form of Software Engineering gurus.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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The tools we use have a profound (and devious!) influence on our thinking habits, and, therefore, on our thinking abilities.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Science quotes on:  |  Ability (75)  |  Devious (2)  |  Habit (78)  |  Influence (110)  |  Profound (46)  |  Think (205)  |  Tool (70)

There are many different styles of composition. I characterize them always as Mozart versus Beethoven. When Mozart began to write at that time he had the composition ready in his mind. He wrote the manuscript and it was ‘aus einem Guss’ (casted as one). And it was also written very beautiful. Beethoven was an indecisive and a tinkerer and wrote down before he had the composition ready and plastered parts over to change them. There was a certain place where he plastered over nine times and one did remove that carefully to see what happened and it turned out the last version was the same as the first one.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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We can found no scientific discipline, nor a hearty profession, on the technical mistakes of the Department of Defense and, mainly, one computer manufacturer.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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We must not put mistakes into programs because of sloppiness, we have to do it systematically and with care.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Science quotes on:  |  Care (73)  |  Mistake (107)  |  Program (32)  |  Systematically (6)

When I came back from Munich, it was September, and I was Professor of Mathematics at the Eindhoven University of Technology. Later I learned that I had been the Department’s third choice, after two numerical analysts had turned the invitation down; the decision to invite me had not been an easy one, on the one hand because I had not really studied mathematics, and on the other hand because of my sandals, my beard and my ‘arrogance’ (whatever that may be).
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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When we had no computers, we had no programming problem either. When we had a few computers, we had a mild programming problem. Confronted with machines a million times as powerful, we are faced with a gigantic programming problem.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Why has elegance found so little following? Elegance has the disadvantage that hard work is needed to achieve it and a good education to appreciate it.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Write a paper promising salvation, make it a ‘structured’ something or a ‘virtual’ something, or ‘abstract’, ‘distributed’ or ‘higher-order’ or ‘applicative’ and you can almost be certain of having started a new cult.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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You must not give the world what it asks for, but what it needs.
— Edsger W. Dijkstra
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Science quotes on:  |  Ask (99)  |  Give (117)  |  Need (211)  |  World (667)


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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