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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index H > G. H. Hardy Quotes > Mathematics

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G. H. Hardy
(7 Feb 1877 - 1 Dec 1947)

English pure mathematician who made leading contributions in analysis and number theory.


G. H. Hardy Quotes on Mathematics (40 quotes)

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A chess problem is genuine mathematics, but it is in some way “trivial” mathematics. However, ingenious and intricate, however original and surprising the moves, there is something essential lacking. Chess problems are unimportant. The best mathematics is serious as well as beautiful—“important” if you like, but the word is very ambiguous, and “serious” expresses what I mean much better.
— G. H. Hardy
'A Mathematician's Apology', in James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (2000), 2029.
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A mathematical proof should resemble a simple and clear-cut constellation, not a scattered cluster in the Milky Way.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, 2012), 113.
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A mathematician … has no material to work with but ideas, and so his patterns are likely to last longer, since ideas wear less with time than words.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 84.
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A mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 84.
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A painter makes patterns with shapes and colours, a poet with words. A painting may embody an “idea,” but the idea is usually commonplace and unimportant. In poetry, ideas count for a good deal more; but, as Housman insisted, the importance of ideas in poetry is habitually exaggerated. … The poverty of ideas seems hardly to affect the beauty of the verbal pattern. A mathematician, on the other hand, has no material to work with but ideas, and so his patterns are likely to last longer, since ideas wear less with time than words.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, 2012), 84-85.
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Archimedes will be remembered when Aeschylus is forgotten, because languages die and mathematical ideas do not. “Immortality” may be a silly word, but probably a mathematician has the best chance of whatever it may mean.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 81.
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As history proves abundantly, mathematical achievement, whatever its intrinsic worth, is the most enduring of all.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, 1967), 80.
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Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 85.
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Chess problems are the hymn-tunes of mathematics.
— G. H. Hardy
'A Mathematician's Apology', in James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (2000), 2028.
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Greek mathematics is the real thing. The Greeks first spoke a language which modern mathematicians can understand… So Greek mathematics is ‘permanent’, more permanent even than Greek literature.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, 1967), 81.
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I am interested in mathematics only as a creative art.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 115.
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I believe that mathematical reality lies outside us, that our function is to discover or observe it, and that the theorems which we prove, and which we describe grandiloquently as our “creations,” are simply the notes of our observations.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 113.
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I count Maxwell and Einstein, Eddington and Dirac, among “real” mathematicians. The great modern achievements of applied mathematics have been in relativity and quantum mechanics, and these subjects are at present at any rate, almost as “useless” as the theory of numbers.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 131.
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I do not remember having felt, as a boy, any passion for mathematics, and such notions as I may have had of the career of a mathematician were far from noble. I thought of mathematics in terms of examinations and scholarships: I wanted to beat other boys, and this seemed to be the way in which I could do so most decisively.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 144.
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I have never done anything 'useful'. No discovery of mine has made, or is likely to make, directly or indirectly, for good or ill, the least difference to the amenity of the world... Judged by all practical standards, the value of my mathematical life is nil; and outside mathematics it is trivial anyhow. I have just one chance of escaping a verdict of complete triviality, that I may be judged to have created something worth creating. And that I have created something is undeniable: the question is about its value.
— G. H. Hardy
A Mathematician's Apology (1940), 90-1.
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I have never done anything “useful.” No discovery of mine has made, or is likely to make, directly or indirectly, for good or ill, the least difference to the amenity of the world... Judged by all practical standards, the value of my mathematical life is nil; and outside mathematics it is trivial anyhow. I have just one chance of escaping a verdict of complete triviality, that I may be judged to have created something worth creating. And that I have created something is undeniable: the question is about its value. [The things I have added to knowledge do not differ from] the creations of the other artists, great or small, who have left some kind of memorial beind them.
— G. H. Hardy
Concluding remarks in A Mathmatician's Apology (1940, 2012), 150-151.
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I propose to put forward an apology for mathematics; and I may be told that it needs none, since there are now few studies more generally recognized, for good reasons or bad, as profitable and praiseworthy.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 63-64.
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If a man is in any sense a real mathematician, then it is a hundred to one that his mathematics will be far better than anything else he can do, and that it would be silly if he surrendered any decent opportunity of exercising his one talent in order to do undistinguished work in other fields. Such a sacrifice could be justified only by economic necessity of age.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 70.
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If intellectual curiosity, professional pride, and ambition are the dominant incentives to research, then assuredly no one has a fairer chance of gratifying them than a mathematician.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, 1967), 80.
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In [great mathematics] there is a very high degree of unexpectedness, combined with inevitability and economy.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 113.
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It is a melancholy experience for a professional mathematician to find him writing about mathematics. The function of a mathematician is to do something, to prove new theorems, to add to mathematics, and not to talk about what he or other mathematicians have done. Statesmen despise publicists, painters despise art-critics, and physiologists, physicists, or mathematicians have usually similar feelings; there is no scorn more profound, or on the whole more justifiable, than that of men who make for the men who explain. Exposition, criticism, appreciation, is work for second-rate minds.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 61 (Hardy's opening lines after Snow's foreward).
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Mathematics is not a contemplative but a creative subject.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 43.
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Mathematics may, like poetry or music, “promote and sustain a lofty habit of mind.”
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 116.
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No discovery of mine has made, or is likely to make, directly or indirectly, for good or ill, the least difference to the amenity of the world.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1941, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 150.
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No mathematician should ever allow him to forget that mathematics, more than any other art or science, is a young man's game. … Galois died at twenty-one, Abel at twenty-seven, Ramanujan at thirty-three, Riemann at forty. There have been men who have done great work later; … [but] I do not know of a single instance of a major mathematical advance initiated by a man past fifty. … A mathematician may still be competent enough at sixty, but it is useless to expect him to have original ideas.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1941, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 70-71.
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No mathematician should ever allow himself to forget that mathematics, more than any other art or science, is a young man's game.
— G. H. Hardy
A Mathematician's Apology (1940), 10.
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No other subject has such clear-cut or unanimously accepted standards, and the men who are remembered are almost always the men who merit it. Mathematical fame, if you have the cash to pay for it, is one of the soundest and steadiest of investments.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 82.
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Reductio ad absurdum, which Euclid loved so much, is one of a mathematician's finest weapons. It is a far finer gambit than any chess play: a chess player may offer the sacrifice of a pawn or even a piece, but a mathematician offers the game.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 94.
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The Babylonian and Assyrian civilizations have perished; Hammurabi, Sargon and Nebuchadnezzar are empty names; yet Babylonian mathematics is still interesting, and the Babylonian scale of 60 is still used in Astronomy.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 80.
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The fact is that there are few more “popular” subjects than mathematics. Most people have some appreciation of mathematics, just as most people can enjoy a pleasant tune; and there are probably more people really interested in mathematics than in music. Appearances may suggest the contrary, but there are easy explanations. Music can be used to stimulate mass emotion, while mathematics cannot; and musical incapacity is recognized (no doubt rightly) as mildly discreditable, whereas most people are so frightened of the name of mathematics that they are ready, quite unaffectedly, to exaggerate their own mathematical stupidity.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 86.
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The mathematician is in much more direct contact with reality. … [Whereas] the physicist’s reality, whatever it may be, has few or none of the attributes which common sense ascribes instinctively to reality. A chair may be a collection of whirling electrons.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 128.
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The mathematician's patterns … must be beautiful … Beauty is the first test; there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 85.
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The mathematician's patterns, like the painter's or the poet's must be beautiful; the ideas, like the colours or the words must fit together in a harmonious way.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 85.
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The public does not need to be convinced that there is something in mathematics.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 63-65.
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The study of mathematics is, if an unprofitable, a perfectly harmless and innocent occupation.
— G. H. Hardy
From Inaugural Lecture, Oxford (1920). Recalled in A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, 1967), 74.
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The “seriousness” of a mathematical theorem lies, not in its practical consequences, which are usually negligible, but in the significance of the mathematical ideas which it connects.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 89.
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When the world is mad, a mathematician may find in mathematics an incomparable anodyne. For mathematics is, of all the arts and sciences, the most austere and the most remote, and a mathematician should be of all men the one who can most easily take refuge where, as Bertrand Russell says, “one at least of our nobler impulses can best escape from the dreary exile of the actual world.”
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 43.
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[I was advised] to read Jordan's 'Cours d'analyse'; and I shall never forget the astonishment with which I read that remarkable work, the first inspiration for so many mathematicians of my generation, and learnt for the first time as I read it what mathematics really meant.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 23.
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[P]ure mathematics is on the whole distinctly more useful than applied. For what is useful above all is technique, and mathematical technique is taught mainly through pure mathematics.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 134.
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[Regarding mathematics,] there are now few studies more generally recognized, for good reasons or bad, as profitable and praiseworthy. This may be true; indeed it is probable, since the sensational triumphs of Einstein, that stellar astronomy and atomic physics are the only sciences which stand higher in popular estimation.
— G. H. Hardy
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 63-64.
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See also:
  • 7 Feb - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Hardy's birth.
  • Godfrey Harold Hardy - context of quote Languages die and mathematical ideas do not - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Godfrey Harold Hardy - context of quote Languages die and mathematical ideas do not - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Godfrey Harold Hardy - context of quote Young men should prove theorems, old men should write books. - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Godfrey Harold Hardy - context of quote Young men should prove theorems, old men should write books. - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • A Mathematician's Apology, by G. H. Hardy. - book suggestion.

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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