Celebrating 18 Years on the Web
TODAY IN SCIENCE HISTORY ®
Find science on or your birthday

Today in Science History - Quickie Quiz
Who said: “Dangerous... to take shelter under a tree, during a thunder-gust. It has been fatal to many, both men and beasts.”
more quiz questions >>
Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index L > J. E. Littlewood Quotes

Thumbnail of J. E. Littlewood
J. E. Littlewood
(9 Jun 1885 - 6 Sep 1977)

English mathematician who studied the distribution of prime numbers. During World War I, he worked on ballistics.

Science Quotes by J. E. Littlewood (18 quotes)


A good mathematical joke is better, and better mathematics, than a dozen mediocre papers.
— J. E. Littlewood
In A Mathematician’s Miscellany (1953), reissued as Béla Bollobás, Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 24.
Science quotes on:  |  Joke (74)  |  Mathematics (1205)  |  Paper (83)  |  Publication (91)

A linguist would be shocked to learn that if a set is not closed this does not mean that it is open, or again that “E is dense in E” does not mean the same thing as “E is dense in itself”.
— J. E. Littlewood
Given, without citation, in A Mathematician’s Miscellany (1953), reissued as Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 57.
Science quotes on:  |  Closed (11)  |  Dense (5)  |  Learn (288)  |  Linguist (2)  |  Open (66)  |  Set (99)  |  Shock (13)

A precisian professor had the habit of saying: “… quartic polynomial ax4+bx3+cx2+dx+e, where e need not be the base of the natural logarithms.”
— J. E. Littlewood
Given, without citation, in A Mathematician’s Miscellany (1953), reissued as Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 60. [Note: a precisian is a rigidly precise or punctilious person. —Webmaster]
Science quotes on:  |  Base (71)  |  Habit (112)  |  Polynomial (2)  |  Precise (34)  |  Professor (54)  |  Say (228)

After an honest day’s work a mathematician goes off duty. Mathematics is very hard work, and dons tend to be above average in health and vigor. Below a certain threshold a man cracks up; but above it, hard mental work makes for health and vigor (also—on much historical evidence throughout the ages—for longevity). I have noticed lately that when I am working really hard I wake around 5.30 a.m. ready and eager to start; if I am slack, I sleep till I am called.
— J. E. Littlewood
In 'The Mathematician’s Art of Work' (1967), collected in Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 195.
Science quotes on:  |  Age (178)  |  Duty (68)  |  Eager (15)  |  Evidence (183)  |  Hard Work (8)  |  Health (156)  |  History (369)  |  Longevity (6)  |  Mathematician (384)  |  Mathematics (1205)  |  Mental (78)  |  Ready (38)  |  Sleep (58)  |  Start (97)  |  Vigor (7)  |  Wake (13)

Erasmus Darwin held that every so often you should try a damn-fool experiment. He played the trombone to his tulips. This particular result was, in fact, negative.
— J. E. Littlewood
In 'The Mathematician’s Art of Work' (1967), collected in Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 194. Webmaster has looked for a primary source to verify this statement and so far has found none. Can you help?
Science quotes on:  |  Erasmus Darwin (40)  |  Experiment (602)  |  Foolish (22)  |  Negative (34)  |  Play (112)  |  Result (389)  |  Try (141)  |  Tulip (2)

I read in the proof sheets of Hardy on Ramanujan: “As someone said, each of the positive integers was one of his personal friends.” My reaction was, “I wonder who said that; I wish I had.” In the next proof-sheets I read (what now stands), “It was Littlewood who said…”. What had happened was that Hardy had received the remark in silence and with poker face, and I wrote it off as a dud.
— J. E. Littlewood
In Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany, (1986), 61.
Science quotes on:  |  Friend (86)  |  G. H. Hardy (71)  |  Integer (10)  |  Personal (66)  |  Positive (44)  |  Proof (245)  |  Srinivasa Ramanujan (17)  |  Reaction (62)  |  Read (145)  |  Remark (27)  |  Say (228)  |  Sheet (7)  |  Silence (43)  |  Wish (92)  |  Wonder (169)

I recall once saying that when I had given the same lecture several times I couldn’t help feeling that they really ought to know it by now.
— J. E. Littlewood
In A Mathematician’s Miscellany (1953), reissued as Béla Bollobás, Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 135.
Science quotes on:  |  Lecture (68)

In passing, I firmly believe that research should be offset by a certain amount of teaching, if only as a change from the agony of research. The trouble, however, I freely admit, is that in practice you get either no teaching, or else far too much.
— J. E. Littlewood
From 'The Mathematician's Art of Work' (1967) in Béla Bollobás (ed.) Littlewood's Miscellany (1986), 194.
Science quotes on:  |  Agony (5)  |  Belief (504)  |  Change (364)  |  In Practice (2)  |  Offset (3)  |  Research (590)  |  Teaching (108)  |  Trouble (72)  |  Work (635)

In presenting a mathematical argument the great thing is to give the educated reader the chance to catch on at once to the momentary point and take details for granted: his successive mouthfuls should be such as can be swallowed at sight; in case of accidents, or in case he wishes for once to check in detail, he should have only a clearly circumscribed little problem to solve (e.g. to check an identity: two trivialities omitted can add up to an impasse). The unpractised writer, even after the dawn of a conscience, gives him no such chance; before he can spot the point he has to tease his way through a maze of symbols of which not the tiniest suffix can be skipped.
— J. E. Littlewood
In A Mathematician's Miscellany (1953). Reissued as Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 49.
Science quotes on:  |  Argument (82)  |  Detail (87)  |  Educated (11)  |  Impasse (2)  |  Mathematics (1205)  |  Present (176)  |  Reader (40)  |  Symbol (73)  |  Writer (46)

It is possible for a mathematician to be “too strong” for a given occasion. He forces through, where another might be driven to a different, and possible more fruitful, approach. (So a rock climber might force a dreadful crack, instead of finding a subtle and delicate route.)
— J. E. Littlewood
In A Mathematician's Miscellany (1953). Reissued as Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 144.
Science quotes on:  |  Approach (54)  |  Climber (7)  |  Crack (15)  |  Delicate (21)  |  Different (186)  |  Dreadful (7)  |  Find (408)  |  Fruitful (43)  |  Mathematician (384)  |  Rock (125)  |  Route (15)  |  Subtle (34)

It was said round 1912 that it gave him [Edmund Landau] the same pleasure when someone else proved a good theorem as if he had done it himself.
— J. E. Littlewood
In A Mathematician’s Miscellany (1953), reissued as Béla Bollobás, Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 24. Notice that Littlewood states this in the third person—about Landau. The words are found on the web paraphrased as a first person quote (It gives me … as when I do it myself), sometimes citing a later author, Desmond MacHale, Comic Sections (1993). Webmaster has not yet found a primary source to authenticate the first person version, and since the earlier occurrence is hedged with “it was said”, Webmaster suggests the first person version is not an authentic verbatim quote.
Science quotes on:  |  Good (345)  |  Edmund Landau (4)  |  Pleasure (133)  |  Prove (109)  |  Theorem (90)

Less in this than meets the eye.
— J. E. Littlewood
In Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 61.
Science quotes on:  |  Eye (222)  |  Less (102)  |  Meet (31)

Mathematics is a dangerous profession; an appreciable proportion of us go mad.
— J. E. Littlewood
In A Mathematician’s Miscellany (1953), reissued as Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 104.
Science quotes on:  |  Mad (25)  |  Mathematics (1205)  |  Profession (60)  |  Proportion (72)

The infinitely competent can be uncreative.
— J. E. Littlewood
In A Mathematician's Miscellany (1953). Reissued as Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 60.
Science quotes on:  |  Competent (20)  |  Infinitely (13)  |  Uncreative (2)

The surprising thing about this paper is that a man who could write it would.
— J. E. Littlewood
In A Mathematician’s Miscellany (1953), reissued as Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 59.
Science quotes on:  |  Paper (83)  |  Publication (91)  |  Surprise (71)  |  Write (154)

The theory of numbers is particularly liable to the accusation that some of its problems are the wrong sort of questions to ask. I do not myself think the danger is serious; either a reasonable amount of concentration leads to new ideas or methods of obvious interest, or else one just leaves the problem alone. “Perfect numbers” certainly never did any good, but then they never did any particular harm.
— J. E. Littlewood
In A Mathematician’s Miscellany (1953). Reissued as Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 74.
Science quotes on:  |  Accusation (6)  |  Ask (160)  |  Concentration (19)  |  Danger (78)  |  Good (345)  |  Harm (38)  |  Interest (237)  |  Lead (160)  |  Leave Alone (2)  |  Liable (4)  |  Method (239)  |  New Ideas (16)  |  Obvious (83)  |  Perfect Number (4)  |  Problem (497)  |  Question (404)  |  Reasonable (27)  |  Serious (52)  |  Theory Of Numbers (5)  |  Wrong (139)

There is much to be said for being a mathematician. To begin with, he has to be completely honest in his work, not from any superior morality, but because he simply cannot get away with a fake.
— J. E. Littlewood
In 'The Mathematician’s Art of Work' (1967), collected in Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 195.
Science quotes on:  |  Fake (3)  |  Honest (34)  |  Mathematician (384)  |  Morality (42)

We come finally, however, to the relation of the ideal theory to real world, or “real” probability. If he is consistent a man of the mathematical school washes his hands of applications. To someone who wants them he would say that the ideal system runs parallel to the usual theory: “If this is what you want, try it: it is not my business to justify application of the system; that can only be done by philosophizing; I am a mathematician”. In practice he is apt to say: “try this; if it works that will justify it”. But now he is not merely philosophizing; he is committing the characteristic fallacy. Inductive experience that the system works is not evidence.
— J. E. Littlewood
In A Mathematician’s Miscellany (1953). Reissued as Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 73.
Science quotes on:  |  Evidence (183)  |  Experience (342)  |  Fallacy (26)  |  Ideal (72)  |  Inductive (10)  |  Mathematician (384)  |  Philosophy (259)  |  Real World (14)  |  Relation (154)  |  Theory (696)



Quotes by others about J. E. Littlewood (1)

Plenty of mathematicians, Hardy knew, could follow a step-by-step discursus unflaggingly—yet counted for nothing beside Ramanujan. Years later, he would contrive an informal scale of natural mathematical ability on which he assigned himself a 25 and Littlewood a 30. To David Hilbert, the most eminent mathematician of the day, he assigned an 80. To Ramanujan he gave 100.
In The Man who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan (1975), 226.
Science quotes on:  |  Ability (108)  |  Assignment (10)  |  Discourse (18)  |  Eminence (13)  |  G. H. Hardy (71)  |  David Hilbert (46)  |  Informal (4)  |  Mathematician (384)  |  Mathematics (1205)  |  Natural (173)  |  Srinivasa Ramanujan (17)  |  Scale (63)


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
Quotations by:Albert EinsteinIsaac NewtonLord KelvinCharles DarwinSrinivasa RamanujanCarl SaganFlorence NightingaleThomas EdisonAristotleMarie CurieBenjamin FranklinWinston ChurchillGalileo GalileiSigmund FreudRobert BunsenLouis PasteurTheodore RooseveltAbraham LincolnRonald ReaganLeonardo DaVinciMichio KakuKarl PopperJohann GoetheRobert OppenheimerCharles Kettering  ... (more people)

Quotations about:Atomic  BombBiologyChemistryDeforestationEngineeringAnatomyAstronomyBacteriaBiochemistryBotanyConservationDinosaurEnvironmentFractalGeneticsGeologyHistory of ScienceInventionJupiterKnowledgeLoveMathematicsMeasurementMedicineNatural ResourceOrganic ChemistryPhysicsPhysicianQuantum TheoryResearchScience and ArtTeacherTechnologyUniverseVolcanoVirusWind PowerWomen ScientistsX-RaysYouthZoology  ... (more topics)
Sitewide search within all Today In Science History pages:
Visit our Science and Scientist Quotations index for more Science Quotes from archaeologists, biologists, chemists, geologists, inventors and inventions, mathematicians, physicists, pioneers in medicine, science events and technology.

Names index: | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z |

Categories index: | 1 | 2 | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z |

- 100 -
Sophie Germain
Gertrude Elion
Ernest Rutherford
James Chadwick
Marcel Proust
William Harvey
Johann Goethe
John Keynes
Carl Gauss
Paul Feyerabend
- 90 -
Antoine Lavoisier
Lise Meitner
Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
Robert Bunsen
Frederick Banting
Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
Jean Lamarck
- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
Nicolaus Copernicus
Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
Thomas Edison
Lord Kelvin
Theodore Roosevelt
Carolus Linnaeus
- 60 -
Francis Galton
Linus Pauling
Immanuel Kant
Martin Fischer
Robert Boyle
Karl Popper
Paul Dirac
Avicenna
James Watson
William Shakespeare
- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
Rudolf Virchow
Richard Feynman
James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton



who invites your feedback
Thank you for sharing.
Today in Science History
Sign up for Newsletter
with quiz, quotes and more.