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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index P > Henri Poincaré Quotes > Solution

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Henri Poincaré
(29 Apr 1854 - 17 Jul 1912)

French mathematician, physicist and astronomer , who is often described as the last generalist in mathematics.


Henri Poincaré Quotes on Solution (6 quotes)

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Douter de tout ou tout croire, ce sont deux solutions également commodes, qui l’une et l’autre nous dispensent de défléchir.
To doubt everything and to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; each saves us from thinking.
— Henri Poincaré
From 'Introduction', La Science et l’Hypothèse (1902), 2. Translation by George Bruce Halsted, 'Introduction', Science and Hypothesis (New York, 1905), 1. In 'Author’s Preface', Science and Hypothesis (London 1905), xxii, it is translated more closely as “To doubt everything and to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection.”
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Il est impossible de contempler le spectacle de l’univers étoilé sans se demander comment il s’est formé: nous devions peut-être attendre pour chercher une solution que nous ayons patiemment rassemblé les éléments …mais si nous étions si raisonnables, si nous étions curieux sans impatience, il est probable que nous n’avions jamais créé la Science et que nous nous serions toujours contentés de vivre notre petite vie. Notre esprit a donc reclamé impérieusement cette solution bien avant qu’elle fut mûre, et alors qu’il ne possédait que de vagues lueurs, lui permettant de la deviner plutôt que de l’attendre.
It is impossible to contemplate the spectacle of the starry universe without wondering how it was formed: perhaps we ought to wait, and not look for a solution until have patiently assembled the elements … but if we were so reasonable, if we were curious without impatience, it is probable we would never have created Science and we would always have been content with a trivial existence. Thus the mind has imperiously laid claim to this solution long before it was ripe, even while perceived in only faint glimmers—allowing us to guess a solution rather than wait for it.
— Henri Poincaré
From Leçons sur les Hypothèses Consmogoniques (1913) as cited in D. Ter Haar and A.G.W. Cameron, 'Historical Review of Theories of the Origin of the Solar System', collected in Robert Jastrow and A. G. W. Cameron (eds.), Origin of the Solar System: Proceedings of a Conference Held at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, January 23-24, 1962, (1963), 3. 'Cosmogonical Hypotheses' (1913), collected in Harlow Shapley, Source Book in Astronomy, 1900-1950 (1960), 347.
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Quand les physiciens nous demandent la solution d'un problème, ce n'est pas une corvée qu'ils nous impsent, c'est nous au contraire qui leur doivent des remercîments.
When the physicists ask us for the solution of a problem, it is not drudgery that they impose on us, on the contrary, it is us who owe them thanks.
— Henri Poincaré
La valeur de la science. In Anton Bovier, Statistical Mechanics of Disordered Systems (2006), 111.
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How is it that there are so many minds that are incapable of understanding mathematics? ... the skeleton of our understanding, ... and actually they are the majority. ... We have here a problem that is not easy of solution, but yet must engage the attention of all who wish to devote themselves to education.
— Henri Poincaré
Science and Method (1914, 2003), 117-118.
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Mathematicians attach great importance to the elegance of their methods and their results. This is not pure dilettantism. What is it indeed that gives us the feeling of elegance in a solution, in a demonstration? It is the harmony of the diverse parts, their symmetry, their happy balance; in a word it is all that introduces order, all that gives unity, that permits us to see clearly and to comprehend at once both the ensemble and the details. But this is exactly what yields great results, in fact the more we see this aggregate clearly and at a single glance, the better we perceive its analogies with other neighboring objects, consequently the more chances we have of divining the possible generalizations. Elegance may produce the feeling of the unforeseen by the unexpected meeting of objects we are not accustomed to bring together; there again it is fruitful, since it thus unveils for us kinships before unrecognized. It is fruitful even when it results only from the contrast between the simplicity of the means and the complexity of the problem set; it makes us then think of the reason for this contrast and very often makes us see that chance is not the reason; that it is to be found in some unexpected law. In a word, the feeling of mathematical elegance is only the satisfaction due to any adaptation of the solution to the needs of our mind, and it is because of this very adaptation that this solution can be for us an instrument. Consequently this esthetic satisfaction is bound up with the economy of thought.
— Henri Poincaré
In 'The Future of Mathematics', Monist, 20, 80. Translated from the French by George Bruce Halsted.
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What is it indeed that gives us the feeling of elegance in a solution, in a demonstration? It is the harmony of the diverse parts, their symmetry, their happy balance; in a word it is all that introduces order, all that gives unity, that permits us to see clearly and to comprehend at once both the ensemble and the details.
— Henri Poincaré
From 'L’Avenir des Mathématiques', Science et Méthode (1908, 1920), Livre Premier, Chap. 2, 25. English as in Henri Poincaré and George Bruce Halsted (trans.), 'The Future of Mathematics', Science and Method collected in The Foundations of Science: Science and Hypothesis, The Value of Science, Science and Method (1913), 372. From the French, “Qu’est-ce qui nous donne en effet dans une solution, dans une démonstration, le sentiment de l’élégance? C’est l’harmonie des diverses parties, leur symétrie, leur heureux balancement; c’est en un mot tout ce qui y met de l'ordre, tout ce qui leur donne de l’unité, ce qui nous permet par conséquent d’y voir clair et d’en comprendre l’ensemble en même temps que les détails”.
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See also:
  • 29 Apr - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Poincaré's birth.
  • The Value of Science: Essential Writings of Henri Poincaré, by Henri Poincaré. - 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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