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Leonhard Euler
(15 Apr 1707 - 18 Sep 1783)

Swiss mathematician and physicist who was a giant in the 18th century for his creativity and productivity, including the development of integral calculus. In physics, he developed theories of lunar motion.


Science Quotes by Leonhard Euler (8 quotes)

Although to penetrate into the intimate mysteries of nature and thence to learn the true causes of phenomena is not allowed to us, nevertheless it can happen that a certain fictive hypothesis may suffice for explaining many phenomena.
— Leonhard Euler
…...
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e√-π-1= 0
— Leonhard Euler
A special case of a formula published by Euler in his Introductio ad analysin infinitorum (1748), Vol. 1. However, he did not print it, either there or elsewhere. An early printing, maybe the first, is due to J. F. Français in Annales des mathematique pures et appliquées 1813-1814, 4, 66. The formula was also highlighted by the American mathematician Benjamin Peirce around 1840. But its rise to 'fame' remains obscure.
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For since the fabric of the universe is most perfect and the work of a most wise creator, nothing at all takes place in the universe in which some rule of the maximum or minimum does not appear….
— Leonhard Euler
From Methodus Inveniendi Uneas Curvas (1744), 1st addition, art. 1, translated as an epigram in Ivor Grattan-Guinness, Convolutions in French Mathematics, 1800-1840: From the Calculus and Mechanics to Mathematical Analysis and Mathematical Physics (1990), Vol. 1, 285.
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If a nonnegative quantity was so small that it is smaller than any given one, then it certainly could not be anything but zero. To those who ask what the infinitely small quantity in mathematics is, we answer that it is actually zero. Hence there are not so many mysteries hidden in this concept as they are usually believed to be. These supposed mysteries have rendered the calculus of the infinitely small quite suspect to many people. Those doubts that remain we shall thoroughly remove in the following pages, where we shall explain this calculus.
— Leonhard Euler
…...
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If we view mathematical speculations with reference to their use, it appears that they should be divided into two classes. To the first belong those which furnish some marked advantage either to common life or to some art, and the value of such is usually determined by the magnitude of this advantage. The other class embraces those speculations which, though offering no direct advantage, are nevertheless valuable in that they extend the boundaries of analysis and increase our resources and skill. Now since many investigations, from which great advantage may be expected, must be abandoned solely because of the imperfection of analysis, no small value should be assigned to those speculations which promise to enlarge the field of anaylsis.
— Leonhard Euler
In Novi Comm. Petr., Vol. 4, Preface.
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Mathematicians have tried in vain to this day to discover some order in the sequence of prime numbers, and we have reason to believe that it is a mystery into which the human mind will never penetrate.
— Leonhard Euler
As quoted in G. Simmons Calculus Gems (1992).
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Notable enough, however, are the controversies over the series 1 – 1 + 1 – 1 + 1 – … whose sum was given by Leibniz as 1/2, although others disagree. … Understanding of this question is to be sought in the word “sum”; this idea, if thus conceived—namely, the sum of a series is said to be that quantity to which it is brought closer as more terms of the series are taken—has relevance only for convergent series, and we should in general give up the idea of sum for divergent series.
— Leonhard Euler
…...
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Now I will have less distraction.
— Leonhard Euler
Quoted as said upon losing the use of his right eye. In Howard Eves, Mathematical Circles (1969). Webmaster has not yet found a primary source. Can you help?
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Quotes by others about Leonhard Euler (26)

Lisez Euler, lisez Euler, c’est notre maître à tous.
(Read Euler, read Euler, he is our master in everything.)
Quoted in Petr Beckmann, A History of Pi, 157.
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The genius of Laplace was a perfect sledge hammer in bursting purely mathematical obstacles; but, like that useful instrument, it gave neither finish nor beauty to the results. In truth, in truism if the reader please, Laplace was neither Lagrange nor Euler, as every student is made to feel. The second is power and symmetry, the third power and simplicity; the first is power without either symmetry or simplicity. But, nevertheless, Laplace never attempted investigation of a subject without leaving upon it the marks of difficulties conquered: sometimes clumsily, sometimes indirectly, always without minuteness of design or arrangement of detail; but still, his end is obtained and the difficulty is conquered.
In 'Review of “Théorie Analytique des Probabilites” par M. le Marquis de Laplace, 3eme edition. Paris. 1820', Dublin Review (1837), 2, 348.
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Accordingly, we find Euler and D'Alembert devoting their talent and their patience to the establishment of the laws of rotation of the solid bodies. Lagrange has incorporated his own analysis of the problem with his general treatment of mechanics, and since his time M. Poinsôt has brought the subject under the power of a more searching analysis than that of the calculus, in which ideas take the place of symbols, and intelligent propositions supersede equations.
J. C. Maxwell on Louis Poinsôt (1777-1859) in 'On a Dynamical Top' (1857). In W. D. Niven (ed.), The Scientific Papers of James Clerk Maxwell (1890), Vol. 1, 248.
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We pass by imperceptible gradations from the brute to the savage and from the savage to Euler and Newton.
In 'Esquisse', Oeuvres, Vol. 6, 346. As cited by Frank Edward Manuel, Utopian Thought in the Western World (1979, 2009), 492.
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My view, the skeptical one, holds that we may be as far away from an understanding of elementary particles as Newton's successors were from quantum mechanics. Like them, we have two tremendous tasks ahead of us. One is to study and explore the mathematics of the existing theories. The existing quantum field-theories may or may not be correct, but they certainly conceal mathematical depths which will take the genius of an Euler or a Hamilton to plumb. Our second task is to press on with the exploration of the wide range of physical phenomena of which the existing theories take no account. This means pressing on with experiments in the fashionable area of particle physics. Outstanding among the areas of physics which have been left out of recent theories of elementary particles are gravitation and cosmology
In Scientific American (Sep 1958). As cited in '50, 100 & 150 years ago', Scientific American (Sep 2008), 299, No. 3, 14.
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The person who did most to give to analysis the generality and symmetry which are now its pride, was also the person who made mechanics analytical; I mean Euler.
From History of the Inductive Sciences from the Earliest to the Present (1837), Vol. 2, 93.
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Simple as the law of gravity now appears, and beautifully in accordance with all the observations of past and of present times, consider what it has cost of intellectual study. Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Euler, Lagrange, Laplace, all the great names which have exalted the character of man, by carrying out trains of reasoning unparalleled in every other science; these, and a host of others, each of whom might have been the Newton of another field, have all labored to work out, the consequences which resulted from that single law which he discovered. All that the human mind has produced—the brightest in genius, the most persevering in application, has been lavished on the details of the law of gravity.
in The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise: A Fragment (1838), 57.
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Perhaps the most surprising thing about mathematics is that it is so surprising. The rules which we make up at the beginning seem ordinary and inevitable, but it is impossible to foresee their consequences. These have only been found out by long study, extending over many centuries. Much of our knowledge is due to a comparatively few great mathematicians such as Newton, Euler, Gauss, or Riemann; few careers can have been more satisfying than theirs. They have contributed something to human thought even more lasting than great literature, since it is independent of language.
Quoted in a space filler, without citation, in The Pentagon: A Mathematics Magazine for Students (Fall 1951), 11, No. 1, 12. Primary source needed (can you help).
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Euler calculated without any apparent effort, just as men breathe, as eagles sustain themselves in the air.
In Oeuvres, t. 2 (1854), 138.
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It is the invaluable merit of the great Basle mathematician Leonhard Euler, to have freed the analytical calculus from all geometric bounds, and thus to have established analysis as an independent science, which from his time on has maintained an unchallenged leadership in the field of mathematics.
In Die Entwickelung der Mathematik in den letzten Jahrhunderten (1884), 12. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 153. Seen incorrectly attributed to Thomas Reid in N. Rose, Mathematical and Maxims and Minims (1988).
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Euler who could have been called almost without metaphor, and certainly without hyperbole, analysis incarnate.
In Oeuvres, t. 2 (1854), 443.
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Euler could repeat the Aeneid from the beginning to the end, and he could even tell the first and last lines in every page of the edition which he used. In one of his works there is a learned memoir on a question in mechanics, of which, as he himself informs us, a verse of Aeneid gave him the first idea. [“The anchor drops, the rushing keel is staid.”]
In Letters of Euler (1872), Vol. 1, 24.
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Two of his [Euler’s] pupils having computed to the 17th term, a complicated converging series, their results differed one unit in the fiftieth cipher; and an appeal being made to Euler, he went over the calculation in his mind, and his decision was found correct.
In Letters of Euler (1872), Vol. 2, 22.
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In 1735 the solving of an astronomical problem, proposed by the Academy, for which several eminent mathematicians had demanded several months’ time, was achieved in three days by Euler with aid of improved methods of his own. … With still superior methods this same problem was solved by the illustrious Gauss in one hour.
In History of Mathematics (1897), 248.
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Most of his [Euler’s] memoirs are contained in the transactions of the Academy of Sciences at St. Petersburg, and in those of the Academy at Berlin. From 1728 to 1783 a large portion of the Petropolitan transactions were filled by his writings. He had engaged to furnish the Petersburg Academy with memoirs in sufficient number to enrich its acts for twenty years—a promise more than fulfilled, for down to 1818 [Euler died in 1793] the volumes usually contained one or more papers of his. It has been said that an edition of Euler’s complete works would fill 16,000 quarto pages.
In History of Mathematics (1897), 263-264.
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Euler was a believer in God, downright and straightforward. The following story is told by Thiebault, in his Souvenirs de vingt ans de séjour à Berlin, … Thiebault says that he has no personal knowledge of the truth of the story, but that it was believed throughout the whole of the north of Europe. Diderot paid a visit to the Russian Court at the invitation of the Empress. He conversed very freely, and gave the younger members of the Court circle a good deal of lively atheism. The Empress was much amused, but some of her counsellors suggested that it might be desirable to check these expositions of doctrine. The Empress did not like to put a direct muzzle on her guest’s tongue, so the following plot was contrived. Diderot was informed that a learned mathematician was in possession of an algebraical demonstration of the existence of God, and would give it him before all the Court, if he desired to hear it. Diderot gladly consented: though the name of the mathematician is not given, it was Euler. He advanced toward Diderot, and said gravely, and in a tone of perfect conviction:
Monsieur, (a + bn) / n = x, donc Dieu existe; repondez!

Diderot, to whom algebra was Hebrew, was embarrassed and disconcerted; while peals of laughter rose on all sides. He asked permission to return to France at once, which was granted.
In Budget of Paradoxes (1878), 251. [The declaration in French expresses, “therefore God exists; please answer!” This Euler-Diderot anecdote, as embellished by De Morgan, is generally regarded as entirely fictional. Diderot before he became an encyclopedist was an accomplished mathematician and fully capable of recognizing—and responding to—the absurdity of an algebraic expression in proving the existence of God. See B.H. Brown, 'The Euler-Diderot Anecdote', The American Mathematical Monthly (May 1942), 49, No. 5, 392-303. —Webmaster.]
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The student of mathematics often finds it hard to throw off the uncomfortable feeling that his science, in the person of his pencil, surpasses him in intelligence,—an impression which the great Euler confessed he often could not get rid of. This feeling finds a sort of justification when we reflect that the majority of the ideas we deal with were conceived by others, often centuries ago. In a great measure it is really the intelligence of other people that confronts us in science.
In Popular Scientific Lectures (1910), 196.
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Most, if not all, of the great ideas of modern mathematics have had their origin in observation. Take, for instance, the arithmetical theory of forms, of which the foundation was laid in the diophantine theorems of Fermat, left without proof by their author, which resisted all efforts of the myriad-minded Euler to reduce to demonstration, and only yielded up their cause of being when turned over in the blow-pipe flame of Gauss’s transcendent genius; or the doctrine of double periodicity, which resulted from the observation of Jacobi of a purely analytical fact of transformation; or Legendre’s law of reciprocity; or Sturm’s theorem about the roots of equations, which, as he informed me with his own lips, stared him in the face in the midst of some mechanical investigations connected (if my memory serves me right) with the motion of compound pendulums; or Huyghen’s method of continued fractions, characterized by Lagrange as one of the principal discoveries of that great mathematician, and to which he appears to have been led by the construction of his Planetary Automaton; or the new algebra, speaking of which one of my predecessors (Mr. Spottiswoode) has said, not without just reason and authority, from this chair, “that it reaches out and indissolubly connects itself each year with fresh branches of mathematics, that the theory of equations has become almost new through it, algebraic geometry transfigured in its light, that the calculus of variations, molecular physics, and mechanics” (he might, if speaking at the present moment, go on to add the theory of elasticity and the development of the integral calculus) “have all felt its influence”.
In 'A Plea for the Mathematician', Nature, 1, 238 in Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2, 655-56.
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The persons who have been employed on these problems of applying the properties of matter and the laws of motion to the explanation of the phenomena of the world, and who have brought to them the high and admirable qualities which such an office requires, have justly excited in a very eminent degree the admiration which mankind feels for great intellectual powers. Their names occupy a distinguished place in literary history; and probably there are no scientific reputations of the last century higher, and none more merited, than those earned by great mathematicians who have laboured with such wonderful success in unfolding the mechanism of the heavens; such for instance as D ’Alembert, Clairaut, Euler, Lagrange, Laplace.
In Astronomy and General Physics (1833), Bk. 3, chap. 4, 327.
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We pass with admiration along the great series of mathematicians, by whom the science of theoretical mechanics has been cultivated, from the time of Newton to our own. There is no group of men of science whose fame is higher or brighter. The great discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, had fixed all eyes on those portions of human knowledge on which their successors employed their labors. The certainty belonging to this line of speculation seemed to elevate mathematicians above the students of other subjects; and the beauty of mathematical relations and the subtlety of intellect which may be shown in dealing with them, were fitted to win unbounded applause. The successors of Newton and the Bernoullis, as Euler, Clairaut, D’Alembert, Lagrange, Laplace, not to introduce living names, have been some of the most remarkable men of talent which the world has seen.
In History of the Inductive Sciences, Vol. 1, Bk. 4, chap. 6, sect. 6.
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This [the fact that the pursuit of mathematics brings into harmonious action all the faculties of the human mind] accounts for the extraordinary longevity of all the greatest masters of the Analytic art, the Dii Majores of the mathematical Pantheon. Leibnitz lived to the age of 70; Euler to 76; Lagrange to 77; Laplace to 78; Gauss to 78; Plato, the supposed inventor of the conic sections, who made mathematics his study and delight, who called them the handles or aids to philosophy, the medicine of the soul, and is said never to have let a day go by without inventing some new theorems, lived to 82; Newton, the crown and glory of his race, to 85; Archimedes, the nearest akin, probably, to Newton in genius, was 75, and might have lived on to be 100, for aught we can guess to the contrary, when he was slain by the impatient and ill mannered sergeant, sent to bring him before the Roman general, in the full vigour of his faculties, and in the very act of working out a problem; Pythagoras, in whose school, I believe, the word mathematician (used, however, in a somewhat wider than its present sense) originated, the second founder of geometry, the inventor of the matchless theorem which goes by his name, the pre-cognizer of the undoubtedly mis-called Copernican theory, the discoverer of the regular solids and the musical canon who stands at the very apex of this pyramid of fame, (if we may credit the tradition) after spending 22 years studying in Egypt, and 12 in Babylon, opened school when 56 or 57 years old in Magna Græcia, married a young wife when past 60, and died, carrying on his work with energy unspent to the last, at the age of 99. The mathematician lives long and lives young; the wings of his soul do not early drop off, nor do its pores become clogged with the earthy particles blown from the dusty highways of vulgar life.
In Presidential Address to the British Association, Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2 (1908), 658.
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Bertrand, Darboux, and Glaisher have compared Cayley to Euler, alike for his range, his analytical power, and, not least, for his prolific production of new views and fertile theories. There is hardly a subject in the whole of pure mathematics at which he has not worked.
In Proceedings of London Royal Society (1895), 58, 21.
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Euler’s Tentamen novae theorae musicae had no great success, as it contained too much geometry for musicians, and too much music for geometers.
Paraphrase by Brewster to describe Fuss’ opinion of Euler’s 'Attempt at a New Theory of Music' (1739). In David Brewster, Letters of Euler on Different Subjects in Natural Philosophy (1872), Vol. 1, 26. The remark by Fuss appears in his eulogy, read at the Imperial Academy of Sciences of Saint Petersburg (23 Oct 1783). Published in the original French in 'Éloge de Léonard Euler, Prononcé en Français par Nicolas Fuss'. Collected in Leonard Euler, Oeuvres Complètes en Français de L. Euler (1839), Vol. 1, xii.
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One of Euler’s main recreations was music, and by cultivating it he brought with it all his geometrical spirit; … he rested his serious researches and composed his Essay of a New Theory of Music, published in 1739; a book full of new ideas presented in a new point of view, but that did not have a great success, apparently for the sole reason that it contains too much of geometry for the musician and too much music for the geometer.
From his Eulogy of Leonhard Euler, read at the Imperial Academy of Sciences of Saint Petersburg (23 Oct 1783). Published in 'Éloge de Léonard Euler, Prononcé en Français par Nicolas Fuss'. Collected in Leonard Euler, Oeuvres Complètes en Français de L. Euler (1839), Vol. 1, xii. From the original French, “Un des principaux délassements d'Euler était la musique, et en la cultivant il y apporta tout son esprit géométrique; … il accordait à ses recherches profondes, il composa son Essai d'une nouvelle théorie de la musique, publié en 1739; ouvrage rempli d'idées neuves ou présentées sous un nouveau point de vue, mais qui n’eut pas un grand succès, apparemment par la seule raison qu’il renferme trop de géométrie pour le musicien et trop de musique pour le géomètre.” English version by Webmaster using Google translate.
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The general knowledge of our author [Leonhard Euler] was more extensive than could well be expected, in one who had pursued, with such unremitting ardor, mathematics and astronomy as his favorite studies. He had made a very considerable progress in medical, botanical, and chemical science. What was still more extraordinary, he was an excellent scholar, and possessed in a high degree what is generally called erudition. He had attentively read the most eminent writers of ancient Rome; the civil and literary history of all ages and all nations was familiar to him; and foreigners, who were only acquainted with his works, were astonished to find in the conversation of a man, whose long life seemed solely occupied in mathematical and physical researches and discoveries, such an extensive acquaintance with the most interesting branches of literature. In this respect, no doubt, he was much indebted to an uncommon memory, which seemed to retain every idea that was conveyed to it, either from reading or from meditation.
In Philosophical and Mathematical Dictionary (1815), 493-494.
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We may safely say, that the whole form of modern mathematical thinking was created by Euler. It is only with the greatest difficulty that one is able to follow the writings of any author immediately preceding Euler, because it was not yet known how to let the formulas speak for themselves. This art Euler was the first one to teach.
In Quoted in W. Ahrens Scherz und Ernst in der Mathematik (1904), 251.
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See also:
  • 15 Apr - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Euler's birth.
  • Euler: The Master of Us All, by William Dunham. - book suggestion.

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