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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index H > Hermann Hankel Quotes

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Hermann Hankel
(14 Feb 1839 - 29 Aug 1873)

German mathematician who worked on the theory of complex numbers, the theory of functions and the history of mathematics.


Science Quotes by Hermann Hankel (15 quotes)

Generality of points of view and of methods, precision and elegance in presentation, have become, since Lagrange, the common property of all who would lay claim to the rank of scientific mathematicians. And, even if this generality leads at times to abstruseness at the expense of intuition and applicability, so that general theorems are formulated which fail to apply to a single special case, if furthermore precision at times degenerates into a studied brevity which makes it more difficult to read an article than it was to write it; if, finally, elegance of form has well-nigh become in our day the criterion of the worth or worthlessness of a proposition,—yet are these conditions of the highest importance to a wholesome development, in that they keep the scientific material within the limits which are necessary both intrinsically and extrinsically if mathematics is not to spend itself in trivialities or smother in profusion.
— Hermann Hankel
In Die Entwickdung der Mathematik in den letzten Jahrhunderten (1884), 14-15.
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If it is true as Whewell says, that the essence of the triumphs of Science and its progress consists in that it enables us to consider evident and necessary, views which our ancestors held to be unintelligible and were unable to comprehend, then the extension of the number concept to include the irrational, and we will at once add, the imaginary, is the greatest forward step which pure mathematics has ever taken.
— Hermann Hankel
In Theorie der Complexen Zahlensysteme (1867), 60. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 281. From the original German, “Wenn es wahr ist, dass, wie Whewell meint, das Wesen der Triumphe der Wissenschaft und ihres Fortschrittes darin besteht, dass wir veranlasst werden, Ansichten, welche unsere Vorfahren für unbegreiflich hielten und unfähig waren zu begreifen, für evident und nothwendig zu halten, so war die Erweiterung des Zahlenbegriffes auf das Irrationale, und wollen wir sogleich hinzufügen, das Imaginäre, der grösste Fortschritt, den die reine Mathematik jemals gemacht hat.”
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If we compare a mathematical problem with an immense rock, whose interior we wish to penetrate, then the work of the Greek mathematicians appears to us like that of a robust stonecutter, who, with indefatigable perseverance, attempts to demolish the rock gradually from the outside by means of hammer and chisel; but the modern mathematician resembles an expert miner, who first constructs a few passages through the rock and then explodes it with a single blast, bringing to light its inner treasures.
— Hermann Hankel
In Die Entwickelung der Mathematik in den letzten Jahrhunderten (1869), 9. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 114. From the original German, “Vergleichen wir ein mathematisches Problem mit einem gewaltigen Felsen, in dessen Inneres wir eindringen wollen, so erscheint die Arbeit der griechischen Mathematiker uns als die eines rüstigen Steinhauers, der mit Hammer und Meissel in unermüdlicher Ausdauer den Felsen langsam von aussen her zu zerbröckeln beginnt; der moderne Mathematiker aber als ein trefflicher Minirer, der diesen Felsen zunächst mit wenigen Gängen durchzieht, von denen aus er dann den Felsblock mit einem gewaltigem Schlage zersprengt und die Schätze des Inneren zu Tage fördert.”
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In most sciences one generation tears down what another has built, and what one has established, another undoes. In mathematics alone each generation adds a new storey to the old structure.
— Hermann Hankel
In Die Entwickelung der Mathematik in den letzten Jahrhunderten (1869), 34. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 14. From the original German, “In den meisten Wissenschaften pflegt eine Generation das niederzureissen, was die andere gebaut, und was jene gesetzt, hebt diese auf. In der Mathematik allein setzt jede Generation ein neues Stockwerk auf den alten Unterbau.”
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Indeed, if one understands by algebra the application of arithmetic operations to composite magnitudes of all kinds, whether they be rational or irrational number or space magnitudes, then the learned Brahmins of Hindostan are the true inventors of algebra.
— Hermann Hankel
In Geschichte der Mathematik im Altertum und im Mittelalter (1874), 195. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 284. From the original German, “Ja, wenn man unter Algebra die Anwendung arithmetischer Operationen auf zusammengesetzte Grössen aller Art, mögen sie rationale oder irrationale Zahl- oder Raumgrössen sein, versteht, so sind die gelehrten Brahmanen Hindustans die wahren Erfinder der Algebra.”
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Isolated, so-called “pretty theorems” have even less value in the eyes of a modern mathematician than the discovery of a new “pretty flower” has to the scientific botanist, though the layman finds in these the chief charm of the respective Sciences.
— Hermann Hankel
In Die Entwickelung der Mathematik in den letzten Jahrhunderten (1869), 19. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 92. From the original German, “Einzelne, sogenannte „hübsche Sätze“ haben an und für sich in den Augen eines modernen Mathematikers noch weniger Werth, als für den wissenschaftlichen Botaniker die Entdeckung einer neuen „hübschen Blume“, obgleich dem Laien gerade hierin der Hauptreiz der betreffenden Wissenschaft zu liegen pflegt.”
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It is not only a decided preference for synthesis and a complete denial of general methods which characterizes the ancient mathematics as against our newer Science [modern mathematics]: besides this extemal formal difference there is another real, more deeply seated, contrast, which arises from the different attitudes which the two assumed relative to the use of the concept of variability. For while the ancients, on account of considerations which had been transmitted to them from the Philosophie school of the Eleatics, never employed the concept of motion, the spatial expression for variability, in their rigorous system, and made incidental use of it only in the treatment of phonoromically generated curves, modern geometry dates from the instant that Descartes left the purely algebraic treatment of equations and proceeded to investigate the variations which an algebraic expression undergoes when one of its variables assumes a continuous succession of values.
— Hermann Hankel
In 'Untersuchungen über die unendlich oft oszillierenden und unstetigen Functionen', Ostwald’s Klassiker der exacten Wissenschaften (1905), No. 153, 44-45. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 115. From the original German, “Nicht allein entschiedene Vorliebe für die Synthese und gänzliche Verleugnung allgemeiner Methoden charakterisiert die antike Mathematik gegenüber unserer neueren Wissenschaft; es gibt neben diesem mehr äußeren, formalen, noch einen tiefliegenden realen Gegensatz, welcher aus der verschiedenen Stellung entspringt, in welche sich beide zu der wissenschaftlichen Verwendung des Begriffes der Veränderlichkeit gesetzt haben. Denn während die Alten den Begriff der Bewegung, des räumlichen Ausdruckes der Veränderlichkeit, aus Bedenken, die aus der philosophischen Schule der Eleaten auf sie übergegangen waren, in ihrem strengen Systeme niemals und auch in der Behandlung phoronomisch erzeugter Kurven nur vorübergehend verwenden, so datiert die neuere Mathematik von dem Augenblicke, als Descartes von der rein algebraischen Behandlung der Gleichungen dazu fortschritt, die Größenveränderungen zu untersuchen, welche ein algebraischer Ausdruck erleidet, indem eine in ihm allgemein bezeichnete Größe eine stetige Folge von Werten durchläuft.”
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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.
— Hermann Hankel
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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It is, so to speak, a scientific tact, which must guide mathematicians in their investigations, and guard them from spending their forces on scientifically worthless problems and abstruse realms, a tact which is closely related to esthetic tact and which is the only thing in our science which cannot be taught or acquired, and is yet the indispensable endowment of every mathematician.
— Hermann Hankel
In Die Entwickelung der Mathematik in den letzten Jahrhunderten (1869), 28. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 92. From the original German, “Es ist, so zu sagen, ein wissenschaftlicher Tact, welcher die Mathematiker bei ihren Untersuchungen leiten, und sie davor bewahren muss, ihre Kräfte auf wissenschaftlich werthlose Probleme und abstruse Gebiete zu wenden, ein Tact, der dem ästhetischen nahe verwandt, das einzige ist, was in unserer Wissenschaft nicht gelehrt und gelernt werden kann, aber eine unentbehrliche Mitgift eines Mathematikers sein sollte.”
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Mathematics pursues its own course unrestrained, not indeed with an unbridled licence which submits to no laws, but rather with the freedom which is determined by its own nature and in conformity with its own being.
— Hermann Hankel
In Die Entwickelung der Mathematik in den letzten Jahrhunderten (1869), 20. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 12. From the original German, “Die Mathematik folgt frei ihren eigenen Bahnen; zwar nicht mit der zügellosen Freiheit, die keinen Gesetzen unterliegt, sondern mit der Freiheit, die sich aus ihrer Natur heraus und mit ihr in Uebereinstimmung selbst determinirt.”
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Mathematics will not be properly esteemed in wider circles until more than the a b c of it is taught in the schools, and until the unfortunate impression is gotten rid of that mathematics serves no other purpose in instruction than the formal training of the mind. The aim of mathematics is its content, its form is a secondary consideration and need not necessarily be that historic form which is due to the circumstance that mathematics took permanent shape under the influence of Greek logic.
— Hermann Hankel
In Die Entivickelung der Mathematik in den letzten Jahrhunderten (1884), 6.
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The purely formal sciences, logic and mathematics, deal with such relations which are independent of the definite content, or the substance of the objects, or at least can be. In particular, mathematics involves those relations of objects to each other that involve the concept of size, measure, number.
— Hermann Hankel
In Theorie der Complexen Zahlensysteme, (1867), 1. Translated by Webmaster using Google Translate from the original German, “Die rein formalen Wissenschaften, Logik und Mathematik, haben solche Relationen zu behandeln, welche unabhängig von dem bestimmten Inhalte, der Substanz der Objecte sind oder es wenigstens sein können.”
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The purely formal Sciences, logic and mathematics, deal with those relations which are, or can be, independent of the particular content or the substance of objects. To mathematics in particular fall those relations between objects which involve the concepts of magnitude, of measure and of number.
— Hermann Hankel
In Theorie der Complexen Zahlensysteme (1867), 1. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 4. From the original German, “Die rein formalen Wissenschaften, Logik und Mathematik, haben solche Relationen zu behandeln, welche unabhängig von dem bestimmten Inhalte, der Substanz der Objecte sind oder es wenigstens sein können. Der Mathematik fallen ins Besondere diejenigen Beziehungen der Objecte zu einander zu, die den Begriff der Grösse, des Maasses, der Zahl involviren.”
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The union of philosophical and mathematical productivity, which besides in Plato we find only in Pythagoras, Descartes and Leibnitz, has always yielded the choicest fruits to mathematics; To the first we owe scientific mathematics in general, Plato discovered the analytic method, by means of which mathematics was elevated above the view-point of the elements, Descartes created the analytical geometry, our own illustrious countryman discovered the infinitesimal calculus—and just these are the four greatest steps in the development of mathematics.
— Hermann Hankel
In Geschichte der Mathematik im Altertum und im Mittelalter (1874), 149-150. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 210. From the original German, “Die Verbindung philosophischer und mathematischer Productivität, wie wir sie ausser in Platon wohl nur noch in Pythagoras, Descartes, Leibnitz vorfinden, hat der Mathematik immer die schönsten Früchte gebracht: Ersterem verdanken wir die wissenschaftliche Mathematik überhaupt, Platon erfand die analytische Methode, durch welche sich die Mathematik über den Standpunct der Elemente erhob, Descartes schuf die analytische Geometrie, unser berühmter Landsmann den Infinitesimalcalcül—und eben daß sind die vier grössten Stufen in der Entwickelung der Mathematik.”
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To Descartes, the great philosopher of the 17th century, is due the undying credit of having removed the bann which until then rested upon geometry. The analytical geometry, as Descartes’ method was called, soon led to an abundance of new theorems and principles, which far transcended everything that ever could have been reached upon the path pursued by the ancients.
— Hermann Hankel
In Die Entwickelung der Mathematik in den letzten Jahrhunderten (1884), 10.
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Quotes by others about Hermann Hankel (1)

The geometrical problems and theorems of the Greeks always refer to definite, oftentimes to rather complicated figures. Now frequently the points and lines of such a figure may assume very many different relative positions; each of these possible cases is then considered separately. On the contrary, present day mathematicians generate their figures one from another, and are accustomed to consider them subject to variation; in this manner they unite the various cases and combine them as much as possible by employing negative and imaginary magnitudes. For example, the problems which Apollonius treats in his two books De sectione rationis, are solved today by means of a single, universally applicable construction; Apollonius, on the contrary, separates it into more than eighty different cases varying only in position. Thus, as Hermann Hankel has fittingly remarked, the ancient geometry sacrifices to a seeming simplicity the true simplicity which consists in the unity of principles; it attained a trivial sensual presentability at the cost of the recognition of the relations of geometric forms in all their changes and in all the variations of their sensually presentable positions.
In 'Die Synthetische Geometrie im Altertum und in der Neuzeit', Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung (1902), 2, 346-347. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 112. The spelling of the first “Apollonius” has been corrected from “Appolonius” in the original English text. From the original German, “Die geometrischen Probleme und Sätze der Griechen beziehen sich allemal auf bestimmte, oft recht komplizierte Figuren. Nun können aber die Punkte und Linien einer solchen Figur häufig sehr verschiedene Lagen zu einander annehmen; jeder dieser möglichen Fälle wird alsdann für sich besonders erörtert. Dagegen lassen die heutigen Mathematiker ihre Figuren aus einander entstehen und sind gewohnt, sie als veränderlich zu betrachten; sie vereinigen so die speziellen Fälle und fassen sie möglichst zusammen unter Benutzung auch negativer und imaginärer Gröfsen. Das Problem z. B., welches Apollonius in seinen zwei Büchern de sectione rationis behandelt, löst man heutzutage durch eine einzige, allgemein anwendbare Konstruktion; Apollonius selber dagegen zerlegt es in mehr als 80 nur durch die Lage verschiedene Fälle. So opfert, wie Hermann Hankel treffend bemerkt, die antike Geometrie einer scheinbaren Einfachheit die wahre, in der Einheit der Prinzipien bestehende; sie erreicht eine triviale sinnliche Anschaulichkeit auf Kosten der Erkenntnis vom Zusammenhang geometrischer Gestalten in aller Wechsel und in aller Veränderlichkeit ihrer sinnlich vorstellbaren Lage.”
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  • 14 Feb - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Hankel's birth.

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