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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index F > Baron Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier Quotes

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Baron Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier
(21 Mar 1768 - 16 May 1830)

French mathematician, Egyptologist and administrator who made many contributions to mathematical physics, and is remembered for the Fourier series.


Science Quotes by Baron Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier (10 quotes)

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Il ne peut y avoir de langage plus universel et plus simple, plus exempt d’erreurs et d’obscurités, c'est-à-dire plus digne d'exprimer les rapports invariables des êtres naturels.
There cannot be a language more universal and more simple, more free from errors and obscurities, … more worthy to express the invariable relations of all natural things. [About mathematical analysis.]
— Baron Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier
From Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), xiv, translated by Alexander Freeman in The Analytical Theory of Heat (1878), 7.
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La chaleur pénètre, comme la gravité, toutes les substances de l’univers, ses rayons occupent toutes les parties de l’espace. Le but de notre ouvrage est d’exposer les lois mathématiques que suit cet élément. Cette théorie formera désormais une des branches les plus importantes de la physique générale.
Heat, like gravity, penetrates every substance of the universe, its rays occupy all parts of space. The object of our work is to set forth the mathematical laws which this element obeys. The theory of heat will hereafter form one of the most important branches of general physics.
— Baron Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier
From 'Discours Préliminaire' to Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), i, translated by Alexander Freeman in The Analytical Theory of Heat (1878), 1.
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Les causes primordiales ne nous sont point connues; mais elles sont assujetties à des lois simples et constantes, que l’on peut découvrir par l’observation, et dont l’étude est l’objet de la philosophie naturelle.
Primary causes are unknown to us; but are subject to simple and constant laws, which may be discovered by observation, the study of them being the object of natural philosophy.
— Baron Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier
Opening statement from 'Discours Préliminaire' to Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), i, translated by Alexander Freeman in The Analytical Theory of Heat (1878), 1.
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L’analyse mathématique … dans l’étude de tous les phénomènes; elle les interprète par le même langage, comme pour attester l’unité et la simplicité du plan de l’univers, et rendre encore plus manifeste cet ordre immuable qui préside à toutes les causes naturelles.
Mathematical analysis … in the study of all phenomena, interprets them by the same language, as if to attest the unity and simplicity of the plan of the universe, and to make still more evident that unchangeable order which presides over all natural causes.
— Baron Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier
From Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), xv, translated by Alexander Freeman in The Analytical Theory of Heat (1878), 8.
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Une même expression, dont les géomètres avaient considéré les propriétés abstraites, … représente'aussi le mouvement de la lumière dans l’atmosphère, quelle détermine les lois de la diffusion de la chaleur dans la matière solide, et quelle entre dans toutes les questions principales de la théorie des probabilités.
The same expression whose abstract properties geometers had considered … represents as well the motion of light in the atmosphere, as it determines the laws of diffusion of heat in solid matter, and enters into all the chief problems of the theory of probability.
— Baron Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier
From Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), translated by Alexander Freeman in The Analytical Theory of Heat (1878), 7.
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Its [mathematical analysis] chief attribute is clearness; it has no means for expressing confused ideas. It compares the most diverse phenomena and discovers the secret analogies which unite them. If matter escapes us, as that of air and light because of its extreme tenuity, if bodies are placed far from us in the immensity of space, if man wishes to know the aspect of the heavens at successive periods separated by many centuries, if gravity and heat act in the interior of the solid earth at depths which will forever be inaccessible, mathematical analysis is still able to trace the laws of these phenomena. It renders them present and measurable, and appears to be the faculty of the human mind destined to supplement the brevity of life and the imperfection of the senses, and what is even more remarkable, it follows the same course in the study of all phenomena; it explains them in the same language, as if in witness to the unity and simplicity of the plan of the universe, and to make more manifest the unchangeable order which presides over all natural causes.
— Baron Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier
From Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), Discours Préliminaire, xiv, (Theory of Heat, Introduction), as translated by Alexander Freeman in The Analytical Theory of Heat (1878), 7.
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Mathematical analysis is as extensive as nature itself; it defines all perceptible relations, measures times, spaces, forces, temperatures; this difficult science is formed slowly, but it preserves every principle which it has once acquired; it grows and strengthens itself incessantly in the midst of the many variations and errors of the human mind.
— Baron Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier
From Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), Discours Préliminaire, xiv, (Theory of Heat, Introduction), as translated by Alexander Freeman in The Analytical Theory of Heat (1878), 7. From the original French, “L’analyse mathématique est aussi étendue que la nature elle-même; elle définit tous les rapports sensibles, mesure les temps y les espaces, les forces, les températures; cette science difficile se forme avec lenteur, mais elle conserve tous les principes quelle a une fois acquis; elle s’accroît et s’affermit sans cesse au milieu de tant de variations et d’erreurs de l’esprit humain.”
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The deep study of nature is the most fruitful source of mathematical discoveries. By offering to research a definite end, this study has the advantage of excluding vague questions and useless calculations; besides it is a sure means of forming analysis itself and of discovering the elements which it most concerns us to know, and which natural science ought always to conserve.
— Baron Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier
Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur, Discours Préliminaire. Translation as in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath's Quotation-book (1914), 89.
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The integrals which we have obtained are not only general expressions which satisfy the differential equation, they represent in the most distinct manner the natural effect which is the object of the phenomenon… when this condition is fulfilled, the integral is, properly speaking, the equation of the phenomenon; it expresses clearly the character and progress of it, in the same manner as the finite equation of a line or curved surface makes known all the properties of those forms.
— Baron Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier
Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), Art. 428, trans. Ivor Grattan-Guinness.
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There could not be a language more universal and more simple, more exempt from errors and obscurities, that is to say, more worthy of expressing the invariable relations of natural objects. Considered from this point of view, it is coextensive with nature itself; it defines all the sensible relations, measures the times, the spaces, the forces, the temperatures; this difficult science is formed slowly, but it retains all the principles it has once acquired. It grows and becomes more certain without limit in the midst of so many errors of the human mind.
— Baron Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier
From Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur, Discours Préliminaire (Theory of Heat, Introduction), quoted as translated in F.R. Moulton, 'The Influence of Astronomy on Mathematics', Science (10 Mar 1911), N.S. Vol. 33, No. 845, 359.
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Quotes by others about Baron Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Fourier (7)

Derrière la série de Fourier, d’autres séries analogues sont entrées dans la domaine de l’analyse; elles y sont entrées par la même porte; elles ont été imaginées en vue des applications.
After the Fourier series, other series have entered the domain of analysis; they entered by the same door; they have been imagined in view of applications.
La valeur de la science. In Anton Bovier, Statistical Mechanics of Disordered Systems (2006), 74.
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[Referring to Fourier’s mathematical theory of the conduction of heat] … Fourier's great mathematical poem…
In W. Thomson and P. G. Tait, Treatise on Natural Philosophy. Reprinted as Principles of Mechanics and Dynamics (2000), 470.
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True greatness is when your name is like ampere, watt, and fourier—when it's spelled with a lower case letter.
'You and Your Research', Bell Communications Research Colloquium Seminar, 7 Mar 1986.
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It is true that Fourier had the opinion that the principal end of mathematics was public utility and the explanation of natural phenomena; but a philosopher as he is should have known that the unique end of science is the honor of the human mind and that from this point of view a question of [the theory of] number is as important as a question of the system of the world.
From letter to Legendre, translation as given in F.R. Moulton, 'The Influence of Astronomy on Mathematics', Science (10 Mar 1911), N.S. Vol. 33, No. 845, 359. A different translation begins, “It is true that M. Fourier believed…” on the Karl Jacobi Quotes web page on this site.
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Fourier’s Theorem … is not only one of the most beautiful results of modern analysis, but it may be said to furnish an indispensable instrument in the treatment of nearly every recondite question in modern physics. To mention only sonorous vibrations, the propagation of electric signals along a telegraph wire, and the conduction of heat by the earth’s crust, as subjects in their generality intractable without it, is to give but a feeble idea of its importance.
In William Thomson and Peter Guthrie Tait, Treatise on Natural Philosophy (1867), Vol. 1, 28.
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~~[Misquote]~~ Fourier is a mathematical poem.
Seen in various books and on the web. This seems to be a misquote based on Kelvin’s reference to Fourier’s mathematical theory of the conduction of heat as “Fourier's great mathematical poem.” More information on the latter quote on the Lord Kelvin Quotes page on this website.
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It is not surprising, in view of the polydynamic constitution of the genuinely mathematical mind, that many of the major heros of the science, men like Desargues and Pascal, Descartes and Leibnitz, Newton, Gauss and Bolzano, Helmholtz and Clifford, Riemann and Salmon and Plücker and Poincaré, have attained to high distinction in other fields not only of science but of philosophy and letters too. And when we reflect that the very greatest mathematical achievements have been due, not alone to the peering, microscopic, histologic vision of men like Weierstrass, illuminating the hidden recesses, the minute and intimate structure of logical reality, but to the larger vision also of men like Klein who survey the kingdoms of geometry and analysis for the endless variety of things that flourish there, as the eye of Darwin ranged over the flora and fauna of the world, or as a commercial monarch contemplates its industry, or as a statesman beholds an empire; when we reflect not only that the Calculus of Probability is a creation of mathematics but that the master mathematician is constantly required to exercise judgment—judgment, that is, in matters not admitting of certainty—balancing probabilities not yet reduced nor even reducible perhaps to calculation; when we reflect that he is called upon to exercise a function analogous to that of the comparative anatomist like Cuvier, comparing theories and doctrines of every degree of similarity and dissimilarity of structure; when, finally, we reflect that he seldom deals with a single idea at a tune, but is for the most part engaged in wielding organized hosts of them, as a general wields at once the division of an army or as a great civil administrator directs from his central office diverse and scattered but related groups of interests and operations; then, I say, the current opinion that devotion to mathematics unfits the devotee for practical affairs should be known for false on a priori grounds. And one should be thus prepared to find that as a fact Gaspard Monge, creator of descriptive geometry, author of the classic Applications de l’analyse à la géométrie; Lazare Carnot, author of the celebrated works, Géométrie de position, and Réflections sur la Métaphysique du Calcul infinitesimal; Fourier, immortal creator of the Théorie analytique de la chaleur; Arago, rightful inheritor of Monge’s chair of geometry; Poncelet, creator of pure projective geometry; one should not be surprised, I say, to find that these and other mathematicians in a land sagacious enough to invoke their aid, rendered, alike in peace and in war, eminent public service.
In Lectures on Science, Philosophy and Art (1908), 32-33.
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See also:
  • 21 Mar - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Fourier's birth.
  • Joseph Fourier - Biography: Politician & Scientist
  • Joseph Fourier - Glossary for Biography: Politician & Scientist
  • Joseph Fourier - eBibliography for Biography: Politician & Scientist

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