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Algebra Quotes (113 quotes)
Algebraical Quotes


Thomasina: Every week I plot your equations dot for dot, x’s against y’s in all manner of algebraical relation, and every week they draw themselves as commonplace geometry, as if the world of forms were nothing but arcs and angles. God’s truth, Septimus, if there is an equation for a curve like a bell, there must be an equation for one like a bluebell, and if a bluebell, why not a rose? Do we believe nature is written in numbers?
Septimus: We do.
Thomasina: Then why do your shapes describe only the shapes of manufacture?
Septimus: I do not know.
Thomasina: Armed thus, God could only make a cabinet.
In the play, Acadia (1993), Scene 3, 37.
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[At a musical concert:]
...the music's pure algebra of enchantment.
In Louis Untermeyer, Modern American Poetry (1962), 430.
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A short, broad man of tremendous vitality, the physical type of Hereward, the last of the English, and his brother-in-arms, Winter, Sylvester’s capacious head was ever lost in the highest cloud-lands of pure mathematics. Often in the dead of night he would get his favorite pupil, that he might communicate the very last product of his creative thought. Everything he saw suggested to him something new in the higher algebra. This transmutation of everything into new mathematics was a revelation to those who knew him intimately. They began to do it themselves. His ease and fertility of invention proved a constant encouragement, while his contempt for provincial stupidities, such as the American hieroglyphics for π and e, which have even found their way into Webster’s Dictionary, made each young worker apply to himself the strictest tests.
In Florian Cajori, Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 265.
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Algebra and money are essentially levelers; the first intellectually, the second effectively.
In Gravity and Grace (1952), 209.
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Algebra applies to the clouds.
Victor Hugo and Charles E. Wilbour (trans.), Les Misérables (1862), 41.
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Algebra is but written geometry and geometry is but figured algebra.
From Mémoire sur les Surfaces Élastiques. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 276.
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Algebra is generous; she often gives more than is asked of her.
Quoted in Bulletin American Mathematical Society (1905), 2, 285. As cited in Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 275.
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Algebra reverses the relative importance of the factors in ordinary language. It is essentially a written language, and it endeavors to exemplify in its written structures the patterns which it is its purpose to convey. The pattern of the marks on paper is a particular instance of the pattern to be conveyed to thought. The algebraic method is our best approach to the expression of necessity, by reason of its reduction of accident to the ghost-like character of the real variable.
In Science and Philosophy (1948), 116.
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All the modern higher mathematics is based on a calculus of operations, on laws of thought. All mathematics, from the first, was so in reality; but the evolvers of the modern higher calculus have known that it is so. Therefore elementary teachers who, at the present day, persist in thinking about algebra and arithmetic as dealing with laws of number, and about geometry as dealing with laws of surface and solid content, are doing the best that in them lies to put their pupils on the wrong track for reaching in the future any true understanding of the higher algebras. Algebras deal not with laws of number, but with such laws of the human thinking machinery as have been discovered in the course of investigations on numbers. Plane geometry deals with such laws of thought as were discovered by men intent on finding out how to measure surface; and solid geometry with such additional laws of thought as were discovered when men began to extend geometry into three dimensions.
In Lectures on the Logic of Arithmetic (1903), Preface, 18-19.
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Anyone who understands algebraic notation, reads at a glance in an equation results reached arithmetically only with great labour and pains.
From Recherches sur les Principes Mathématiques de la Théorie des Richesses (1838), as translated by Nathaniel T. Bacon in 'Preface', Researches Into Mathematical Principles of the Theory of Wealth (1897), 4. From the original French, “Quiconque connaît la notation algébrique, lit d'un clin-d'œil dans une équation le résultat auquel on parvient péniblement par des règles de fausse position, dans l'arithmétique de Banque.”
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As arithmetic and algebra are sciences of great clearness, certainty, and extent, which are immediately conversant about signs, upon the skilful use whereof they entirely depend, so a little attention to them may possibly help us to judge of the progress of the mind in other sciences, which, though differing in nature, design, and object, may yet agree in the general methods of proof and inquiry.
In Alciphron: or the Minute Philosopher, Dialogue 7, collected in The Works of George Berkeley D.D. (1784), Vol. 1, 621.
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As for methods I have sought to give them all the rigour that one requires in geometry, so as never to have recourse to the reasons drawn from the generality of algebra.
In Cours d’analyse (1821), Preface, trans. Ivor Grattan-Guinness.
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As long as algebra and geometry proceeded along separate paths, their advance was slow and their applications limited. But when these sciences joined company, they drew from each other fresh vitality and thenceforward marched on at a rapid pace toward perfection.
In Leçons Élémentaires sur la Mathematiques, Leçon cinquième. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 81.
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As the sun eclipses the stars by his brilliancy, so the man of knowledge will eclipse the fame of others in assemblies of the people if he proposes algebraic problems, and still more if he solves them.
In Florian Cajori, History of Mathematics (1893), 92.
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As to the need of improvement there can be no question whilst the reign of Euclid continues. My own idea of a useful course is to begin with arithmetic, and then not Euclid but algebra. Next, not Euclid, but practical geometry, solid as well as plane; not demonstration, but to make acquaintance. Then not Euclid, but elementary vectors, conjoined with algebra, and applied to geometry. Addition first; then the scalar product. Elementary calculus should go on simultaneously, and come into vector algebraic geometry after a bit. Euclid might be an extra course for learned men, like Homer. But Euclid for children is barbarous.
Electro-Magnetic Theory (1893), Vol. 1, 148. In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 130.
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Astronomy, that micography of heaven, is the most magnificent of the sciences. ... Astronomy has its clear side and its luminous side; on its clear side it is tinctured with algebra, on its luminous side with poetry.
In Victor Hugo and Lorenzo O’Rourke (trans.) Victor Hugo’s Intellectual Autobiography: (Postscriptum de ma vie) (1907), 237-8.
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Bacon himself was very ignorant of all that had been done by mathematics; and, strange to say, he especially objected to astronomy being handed over to the mathematicians. Leverrier and Adams, calculating an unknown planet into a visible existence by enormous heaps of algebra, furnish the last comment of note on this specimen of the goodness of Bacon’s view… . Mathematics was beginning to be the great instrument of exact inquiry: Bacon threw the science aside, from ignorance, just at the time when his enormous sagacity, applied to knowledge, would have made him see the part it was to play. If Newton had taken Bacon for his master, not he, but somebody else, would have been Newton.
In Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 53-54.
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But for the persistence of a student of this university in urging upon me his desire to study with me the modern algebra I should never have been led into this investigation; and the new facts and principles which I have discovered in regard to it (important facts, I believe), would, so far as I am concerned, have remained still hidden in the womb of time. In vain I represented to this inquisitive student that he would do better to take up some other subject lying less off the beaten track of study, such as the higher parts of the calculus or elliptic functions, or the theory of substitutions, or I wot not what besides. He stuck with perfect respectfulness, but with invincible pertinacity, to his point. He would have the new algebra (Heaven knows where he had heard about it, for it is almost unknown in this continent), that or nothing. I was obliged to yield, and what was the consequence? In trying to throw light upon an obscure explanation in our text-book, my brain took fire, I plunged with re-quickened zeal into a subject which I had for years abandoned, and found food for thoughts which have engaged my attention for a considerable time past, and will probably occupy all my powers of contemplation advantageously for several months to come.
In Johns Hopkins Commemoration Day Address, Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 3, 76.
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Chemistry has the same quickening and suggestive influence upon the algebraist as a visit to the Royal Academy, or the old masters may be supposed to have on a Browning or a Tennyson. Indeed it seems to me that an exact homology exists between painting and poetry on the one hand and modern chemistry and modern algebra on the other. In poetry and algebra we have the pure idea elaborated and expressed through the vehicle of language, in painting and chemistry the idea enveloped in matter, depending in part on manual processes and the resources of art for its due manifestation.
Attributed.
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Does it not seem as if Algebra had attained to the dignity of a fine art, in which the workman has a free hand to develop his conceptions, as in a musical theme or a subject for a painting? It has reached a point where every properly developed algebraical composition, like a skillful landscape, is expected to suggest the notion of an infinite distance lying beyond the limits of the canvas.
In 'Lectures on the Theory of Reciprocants', Lecture XXI, American Journal of Mathematics (Jul 1886), 9, No. 3, 136.
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During the three years which I spent at Cambridge my time was wasted, as far as the academical studies were concerned…. I attempted mathematics, … but I got on very slowly. The work was repugnant to me, chiefly from my not being able to see any meaning in the early steps in algebra. This impatience was very foolish…
In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), 'Autobiography', The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887, 1896), Vol. 1, 40.
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Euler was a believer in God, downright and straightforward. The following story is told by Thiebault, in his Souvenirs de vingt ans de séjour à Berlin, … Thiebault says that he has no personal knowledge of the truth of the story, but that it was believed throughout the whole of the north of Europe. Diderot paid a visit to the Russian Court at the invitation of the Empress. He conversed very freely, and gave the younger members of the Court circle a good deal of lively atheism. The Empress was much amused, but some of her counsellors suggested that it might be desirable to check these expositions of doctrine. The Empress did not like to put a direct muzzle on her guest’s tongue, so the following plot was contrived. Diderot was informed that a learned mathematician was in possession of an algebraical demonstration of the existence of God, and would give it him before all the Court, if he desired to hear it. Diderot gladly consented: though the name of the mathematician is not given, it was Euler. He advanced toward Diderot, and said gravely, and in a tone of perfect conviction:
Monsieur, (a + bn) / n = x, donc Dieu existe; repondez!

Diderot, to whom algebra was Hebrew, was embarrassed and disconcerted; while peals of laughter rose on all sides. He asked permission to return to France at once, which was granted.
In Budget of Paradoxes (1878), 251. [The declaration in French expresses, “therefore God exists; please answer!” This Euler-Diderot anecdote, as embellished by De Morgan, is generally regarded as entirely fictional. Diderot before he became an encyclopedist was an accomplished mathematician and fully capable of recognizing—and responding to—the absurdity of an algebraic expression in proving the existence of God. See B.H. Brown, 'The Euler-Diderot Anecdote', The American Mathematical Monthly (May 1942), 49, No. 5, 392-303. —Webmaster.]
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From Pythagoras (ca. 550 BC) to Boethius (ca AD 480-524), when pure mathematics consisted of arithmetic and geometry while applied mathematics consisted of music and astronomy, mathematics could be characterized as the deductive study of “such abstractions as quantities and their consequences, namely figures and so forth” (Aquinas ca. 1260). But since the emergence of abstract algebra it has become increasingly difficult to formulate a definition to cover the whole of the rich, complex and expanding domain of mathematics.
In 100 Years of Mathematics: a Personal Viewpoint (1981), 2.
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Gel’fand amazed me by talking of mathematics as though it were poetry. He once said about a long paper bristling with formulas that it contained the vague beginnings of an idea which could only hint at and which he had never managed to bring out more clearly. I had always thought of mathematics as being much more straightforward: a formula is a formula, and an algebra is an algebra, but Gel’fand found hedgehogs lurking in the rows of his spectral sequences!
In '1991 Ruth Lyttle Satter Prize', Notices of the American Mathematical Society (Mar 1991), 38, No. 3, 186. This is from her acceptance of the 1991 Ruth Lyttle Satter Prize.
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Guido was as much enchanted by the rudiments of algebra as he would have been if I had given him an engine worked by steam, with a methylated spirit lamp to heat the boiler; more enchanted, perhaps for the engine would have got broken, and, remaining always itself, would in any case have lost its charm, while the rudiments of algebra continued to grow and blossom in his mind with an unfailing luxuriance. Every day he made the discovery of something which seemed to him exquisitely beautiful; the new toy was inexhaustible in its potentialities.
In Young Archimedes: And Other Stories (1924), 299. The fictional character, Guido, is a seven year old boy. Methylated spirit is an alcohol fuel.
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How can you shorten the subject? That stern struggle with the multiplication table, for many people not yet ended in victory, how can you make it less? Square root, as obdurate as a hardwood stump in a pasture nothing but years of effort can extract it. You can’t hurry the process. Or pass from arithmetic to algebra; you can’t shoulder your way past quadratic equations or ripple through the binomial theorem. Instead, the other way; your feet are impeded in the tangled growth, your pace slackens, you sink and fall somewhere near the binomial theorem with the calculus in sight on the horizon. So died, for each of us, still bravely fighting, our mathematical training; except for a set of people called “mathematicians”—born so, like crooks.
In Too Much College: Or, Education Eating up Life, with Kindred Essays in Education and Humour (1939), 8.
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I confess, that after I began … to discern how useful mathematicks may be made to physicks, I have often wished that I had employed about the speculative part of geometry, and the cultivation of the specious Algebra I had been taught very young, a good part of that time and industry, that I had spent about surveying and fortification (of which I remember I once wrote an entire treatise) and other parts of practick mathematicks.
In 'The Usefulness of Mathematiks to Natural Philosophy', Works (1772), Vol. 3, 426.
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I do not believe there is anything useful which men can know with exactitude that they cannot know by arithmetic and algebra.
Oeuvres, Vol. 2, 292g. Trans. J. L. Heilbron, Electricity in the 17th and 18th Centuries: A Study of Early Modern Physics (1979), 42.
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I had a dislike for [mathematics], and ... was hopelessly short in algebra. ... [One extraordinary teacher of mathematics] got the whole year's course into me in exactly six [after-school] lessons of half an hour each. And how? More accurately, why? Simply because he was an algebra fanatic—because he believed that algebra was not only a science of the utmost importance, but also one of the greatest fascination. ... [H]e convinced me in twenty minutes that ignorance of algebra was as calamitous, socially and intellectually, as ignorance of table manners—That acquiring its elements was as necessary as washing behind the ears. So I fell upon the book and gulped it voraciously. ... To this day I comprehend the binomial theorem.
In Prejudices: third series (1922), 261-262.
For a longer excerpt, see H. L. Mencken's Recollections of School Algebra.
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I have before mentioned mathematics, wherein algebra gives new helps and views to the understanding. If I propose these it is not to make every man a thorough mathematician or deep algebraist; but yet I think the study of them is of infinite use even to grown men; first by experimentally convincing them, that to make anyone reason well, it is not enough to have parts wherewith he is satisfied, and that serve him well enough in his ordinary course. A man in those studies will see, that however good he may think his understanding, yet in many things, and those very visible, it may fail him. This would take off that presumption that most men have of themselves in this part; and they would not be so apt to think their minds wanted no helps to enlarge them, that there could be nothing added to the acuteness and penetration of their understanding.
In The Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 7.
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I have often thought that an interesting essay might be written on the influence of race on the selection of mathematical methods. methods. The Semitic races had a special genius for arithmetic and algebra, but as far as I know have never produced a single geometrician of any eminence. The Greeks on the other hand adopted a geometrical procedure wherever it was possible, and they even treated arithmetic as a branch of geometry by means of the device of representing numbers by lines.
In A History of the Study of Mathematics at Cambridge (1889), 123
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I regard it as an inelegance, or imperfection, in quaternions, or rather in the state to which it has been hitherto unfolded, whenever it becomes or seems to become necessary to have recourse to … the resources of ordinary algebra. [x, y, z, etc.]
In Lectures on Quaternions: Containing a Systematic Statement of a New Mathematical Method (1853), 522.
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I remember my first look at the great treatise of Maxwell’s when I was a young man… I saw that it was great, greater and greatest, with prodigious possibilities in its power… I was determined to master the book and set to work. I was very ignorant. I had no knowledge of mathematical analysis (having learned only school algebra and trigonometry which I had largely forgotten) and thus my work was laid out for me. It took me several years before I could understand as much as I possibly could. Then I set Maxwell aside and followed my own course. And I progressed much more quickly… It will be understood that I preach the gospel according to my interpretation of Maxwell.
From translations of a letter (24 Feb 1918), cited in Paul J. Nahin, Oliver Heaviside: The Life, Work, and Times of an Electrical Genius of the Victorian Age (2002), 24. Nahin footnotes that the words are not verbatim, but are the result of two translations. Heaviside's original letter in English was quoted, translated in to French by J. Bethenode, for the obituary he wrote, "Oliver Heaviside", in Annales des Posies Telegraphs (1925), 14, 521-538. The quote was retranslated back to English in Nadin's book. Bethenode footnoted that he made the original translation "as literally as possible in order not to change the meaning." Nadin assures that the retranslation was done likewise. Heaviside studyied Maxwell's two-volume Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism.
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I remember one occasion when I tried to add a little seasoning to a review, but I wasn’t allowed to. The paper was by Dorothy Maharam, and it was a perfectly sound contribution to abstract measure theory. The domains of the underlying measures were not sets but elements of more general Boolean algebras, and their range consisted not of positive numbers but of certain abstract equivalence classes. My proposed first sentence was: “The author discusses valueless measures in pointless spaces.”
In I Want to be a Mathematician: An Automathography (1985), 120.
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I should rejoice to see … Euclid honourably shelved or buried “deeper than did ever plummet sound” out of the schoolboys’ reach; morphology introduced into the elements of algebra; projection, correlation, and motion accepted as aids to geometry; the mind of the student quickened and elevated and his faith awakened by early initiation into the ruling ideas of polarity, continuity, infinity, and familiarization with the doctrines of the imaginary and inconceivable.
From Presidential Address (1869) to the British Association, Exeter, Section A, collected in Collected Mathematical Papers of Lames Joseph Sylvester (1908), Vol. 2, 657. Also in George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 93. [Note: “plummet sound” refers to ocean depth measurement (sound) from a ship using a line dropped with a weight (plummet). —Webmaster]
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I think it would be desirable that this form of word [mathematics] should be reserved for the applications of the science, and that we should use mathematic in the singular to denote the science itself, in the same way as we speak of logic, rhetoric, or (own sister to algebra) music.
In Presidential Address to the British Association, Exeter British Association Report (1869); Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2, 669.
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I was just going to say, when I was interrupted, that one of the many ways of classifying minds is under the heads of arithmetical and algebraical intellects. All economical and practical wisdom is an extension or variation of the following arithmetical formula: 2+2=4. Every philosophical proposition has the more general character of the expression a+b=c. We are mere operatives, empirics, and egotists, until we learn to think in letters instead of figures.
The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1858), 1.
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I was unable to devote myself to the learning of this al-jabr [algebra] and the continued concentration upon it, because of obstacles in the vagaries of Time which hindered me; for we have been deprived of all the people of knowledge save for a group, small in number, with many troubles, whose concern in life is to snatch the opportunity, when Time is asleep, to devote themselves meanwhile to the investigation and perfection of a science; for the majority of people who imitate philosophers confuse the true with the false, and they do nothing but deceive and pretend knowledge, and they do not use what they know of the sciences except for base and material purposes; and if they see a certain person seeking for the right and preferring the truth, doing his best to refute the false and untrue and leaving aside hypocrisy and deceit, they make a fool of him and mock him.
A. P. Youschkevitch and B. A. Rosenfeld, 'Al-Khayyami', in C. C. Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1973), Vol. 7, 324.
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If we survey the mathematical works of Sylvester, we recognize indeed a considerable abundance, but in contradistinction to Cayley—not a versatility toward separate fields, but, with few exceptions—a confinement to arithmetic-algebraic branches. …
The concept of Function of a continuous variable, the fundamental concept of modern mathematics, plays no role, is indeed scarcely mentioned in the entire work of Sylvester—Sylvester was combinatorist [combinatoriker].
In Mathematische Annalen (1898), Bd.50, 134-135. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 173.
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If you could stop every atom in its position and direction, and if your mind could comprehend all the actions thus suspended, then if you were really, really good at algebra you could write the formula for all the future; and although nobody can be so clever as to do it, the formula must exist just as if one could.
Spoken by Thomasina in Arcadia (1993), Act I, Scene 1, 13.
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In every case the awakening touch has been the mathematical spirit, the attempt to count, to measure, or to calculate. What to the poet or the seer may appear to be the very death of all his poetry and all his visions—the cold touch of the calculating mind,—this has proved to be the spell by which knowledge has been born, by which new sciences have been created, and hundreds of definite problems put before the minds and into the hands of diligent students. It is the geometrical figure, the dry algebraical formula, which transforms the vague reasoning of the philosopher into a tangible and manageable conception; which represents, though it does not fully describe, which corresponds to, though it does not explain, the things and processes of nature: this clothes the fruitful, but otherwise indefinite, ideas in such a form that the strict logical methods of thought can be applied, that the human mind can in its inner chamber evolve a train of reasoning the result of which corresponds to the phenomena of the outer world.
In A History of European Thought in the Nineteenth Century (1896), Vol. 1, 314.
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In fact, Gentlemen, no geometry without arithmetic, no mechanics without geometry... you cannot count upon success, if your mind is not sufficiently exercised on the forms and demonstrations of geometry, on the theories and calculations of arithmetic ... In a word, the theory of proportions is for industrial teaching, what algebra is for the most elevated mathematical teaching.
... a l'ouverture du cours de mechanique industrielle á Metz (1827), 2-3, trans. Ivor Grattan-Guinness.
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In general the position as regards all such new calculi is this That one cannot accomplish by them anything that could not be accomplished without them. However, the advantage is, that, provided such a calculus corresponds to the inmost nature of frequent needs, anyone who masters it thoroughly is able—without the unconscious inspiration of genius which no one can command—to solve the respective problems, yea, to solve them mechanically in complicated cases in which, without such aid, even genius becomes powerless. Such is the case with the invention of general algebra, with the differential calculus, and in a more limited region with Lagrange’s calculus of variations, with my calculus of congruences, and with Möbius’s calculus. Such conceptions unite, as it were, into an organic whole countless problems which otherwise would remain isolated and require for their separate solution more or less application of inventive genius.
Letter (15 May 1843) to Schumacher, collected in Carl Friedrich Gauss Werke (1866), Vol. 8, 298, as translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath's Quotation-book (1914), 197-198. From the original German, “Überhaupt verhält es sich mit allen solchen neuen Calculs so, dass man durch sie nichts leisten kann, was nicht auch ohne sie zu leisten wäre; der Vortheil ist aber der, dass, wenn ein solcher Calcul dem innersten Wesen vielfach vorkommender Bedürfnisse correspondirt, jeder, der sich ihn ganz angeeignet hat, auch ohne die gleichsam unbewussten Inspirationen des Genies, die niemand erzwingen kann, die dahin gehörigen Aufgaben lösen, ja selbst in so verwickelten Fällen gleichsam mechanisch lösen kann, wo ohne eine solche Hülfe auch das Genie ohnmächtig wird. So ist es mit der Erfindung der Buchstabenrechnung überhaupt; so mit der Differentialrechnung gewesen; so ist es auch (wenn auch in partielleren Sphären) mit Lagranges Variationsrechnung, mit meiner Congruenzenrechnung und mit Möbius' Calcul. Es werden durch solche Conceptionen unzählige Aufgaben, die sonst vereinzelt stehen, und jedesmal neue Efforts (kleinere oder grössere) des Erfindungsgeistes erfordern, gleichsam zu einem organischen Reiche.”
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In Heaven there'll be no algebra,
No learning dates or names,
But only playing golden harps
And reading Henry James.
Anonymous
Displayed at James’s home, Lambs House in Rye. Said to have been written by Henry James’s nephew in the guest book there, as stated in J.D. McClatchy, Sweet Theft: A Poet's Commonplace Book (2016), 212. https://books.google.com/books?isbn=1619027607 J.D. McClatchy - 2016
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In modern Europe, the Middle Ages were called the Dark Ages. Who dares to call them so now? … Their Dante and Alfred and Wickliffe and Abelard and Bacon; their Magna Charta, decimal numbers, mariner’s compass, gunpowder, glass, paper, and clocks; chemistry, algebra, astronomy; their Gothic architecture, their painting,—are the delight and tuition of ours. Six hundred years ago Roger Bacon explained the precession of the equinoxes, and the necessity of reform in the calendar; looking over how many horizons as far as into Liverpool and New York, he announced that machines can be constructed to drive ships more rapidly than a whole galley of rowers could do, nor would they need anything but a pilot to steer; carriages, to move with incredible speed, without aid of animals; and machines to fly into the air like birds.
In 'Progress of Culture', an address read to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge, 18 July 1867. Collected in Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1883), 475.
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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.
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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It is admitted by all that a finished or even a competent reasoner is not the work of nature alone; the experience of every day makes it evident that education develops faculties which would otherwise never have manifested their existence. It is, therefore, as necessary to learn to reason before we can expect to be able to reason, as it is to learn to swim or fence, in order to attain either of those arts. Now, something must be reasoned upon, it matters not much what it is, provided it can be reasoned upon with certainty. The properties of mind or matter, or the study of languages, mathematics, or natural history, may be chosen for this purpose. Now of all these, it is desirable to choose the one which admits of the reasoning being verified, that is, in which we can find out by other means, such as measurement and ocular demonstration of all sorts, whether the results are true or not. When the guiding property of the loadstone was first ascertained, and it was necessary to learn how to use this new discovery, and to find out how far it might be relied on, it would have been thought advisable to make many passages between ports that were well known before attempting a voyage of discovery. So it is with our reasoning faculties: it is desirable that their powers should be exerted upon objects of such a nature, that we can tell by other means whether the results which we obtain are true or false, and this before it is safe to trust entirely to reason. Now the mathematics are peculiarly well adapted for this purpose, on the following grounds:
1. Every term is distinctly explained, and has but one meaning, and it is rarely that two words are employed to mean the same thing.
2. The first principles are self-evident, and, though derived from observation, do not require more of it than has been made by children in general.
3. The demonstration is strictly logical, taking nothing for granted except self-evident first principles, resting nothing upon probability, and entirely independent of authority and opinion.
4. When the conclusion is obtained by reasoning, its truth or falsehood can be ascertained, in geometry by actual measurement, in algebra by common arithmetical calculation. This gives confidence, and is absolutely necessary, if, as was said before, reason is not to be the instructor, but the pupil.
5. There are no words whose meanings are so much alike that the ideas which they stand for may be confounded. Between the meaning of terms there is no distinction, except a total distinction, and all adjectives and adverbs expressing difference of degrees are avoided.
In On the Study and Difficulties of Mathematics (1898), chap. 1.
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It is not always the most brilliant speculations nor the choice of the most exotic materials that is most profitable. I prefer Monsieur de Reaumur busy exterminating moths by means of an oily fleece; or increasing fowl production by making them hatch without the help of their mothers, than Monsieur Bemouilli absorbed in algebra, or Monsieur Leibniz calculating the various advantages and disadvantages of the possible worlds.
Spectacle, 1, 475. Quoted in Camille Limoges, 'Noel-Antoine Pluche', in C. C. Gillispie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1974 ), Vol. 11, 43.
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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.
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 often assumed that because the young child is not competent to study geometry systematically he need be taught nothing geometrical; that because it would be foolish to present to him physics and mechanics as sciences it is useless to present to him any physical or mechanical principles.
An error of like origin, which has wrought incalculable mischief, denies to the scholar the use of the symbols and methods of algebra in connection with his early essays in numbers because, forsooth, he is not as yet capable of mastering quadratics! … The whole infant generation, wrestling with arithmetic, seek for a sign and groan and travail together in pain for the want of it; but no sign is given them save the sign of the prophet Jonah, the withered gourd, fruitless endeavor, wasted strength.
From presidential address (9 Sep 1884) to the General Meeting of the American Social Science Association, 'Industrial Education', printed in Journal of Social Science (1885), 19, 121. Collected in Francis Amasa Walker, Discussions in Education (1899), 132.
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It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can’t go on without the facts … if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly.
Feynman Lectures on Gravitation, edited by Brian Hatfield (2002), 137.
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It would be difficult and perhaps foolhardy to analyze the chances of further progress in almost every part of mathematics one is stopped by unsurmountable difficulties, improvements in the details seem to be the only possibilities which are left… All these difficulties seem to announce that the power of our analysis is almost exhausted, even as the power of ordinary algebra with regard to transcendental geometry in the time of Leibniz and Newton, and that there is a need of combinations opening a new field to the calculation of transcendental quantities and to the solution of the equations including them.
From Rapport historique sur les progrès des sciences mathématiques depuis 1789, et sur leur état actuel (1810), 131. As translated in George Sarton, The Study of the History of Mathematics (1936), 13. In the original French: “Il seroit difficile et peut-être téméraire d’analyser les chances que l’avenir offre à l’avancement des mathématiques: dans presque toutes les parties, on est arrêté par des difficultés insurmontables; des perfectionnements de détail semblent la seule chose qui reste à faire… Toutes ces difficultés semblent annoncer que la puissance de notre analyse est à-peu-près épuisée, comme celle de l’algèbre ordinaire l’étoit par rapport à la géométrie transcendante au temps de Leibnitz et de Newton, et qu’il faut des combinaisons qui ouvrent un nouveau champ au calcul des transcendantes et à la résolution des équations qui les contiennent.” Sarton states this comes from “the report on mathematical progress prepared for the French Academy of Sciences at Napoleon’s request”.
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Let him [the author] be permitted also in all humility to add … that in consequence of the large arrears of algebraical and arithmetical speculations waiting in his mind their turn to be called into outward existence, he is driven to the alternative of leaving the fruits of his meditations to perish (as has been the fate of too many foregone theories, the still-born progeny of his brain, now forever resolved back again into the primordial matter of thought), or venturing to produce from time to time such imperfect sketches as the present, calculated to evoke the mental co-operation of his readers, in whom the algebraical instinct has been to some extent developed, rather than to satisfy the strict demands of rigorously systematic exposition.
In Philosophic Magazine (1863), 460.
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Mathematics gives the young man a clear idea of demonstration and habituates him to form long trains of thought and reasoning methodically connected and sustained by the final certainty of the result; and it has the further advantage, from a purely moral point of view, of inspiring an absolute and fanatical respect for truth. In addition to all this, mathematics, and chiefly algebra and infinitesimal calculus, excite to a high degree the conception of the signs and symbols—necessary instruments to extend the power and reach of the human mind by summarizing an aggregate of relations in a condensed form and in a kind of mechanical way. These auxiliaries are of special value in mathematics because they are there adequate to their definitions, a characteristic which they do not possess to the same degree in the physical and mathematical [natural?] sciences.
There are, in fact, a mass of mental and moral faculties that can be put in full play only by instruction in mathematics; and they would be made still more available if the teaching was directed so as to leave free play to the personal work of the student.
In 'Science as an Instrument of Education', Popular Science Monthly (1897), 253.
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Mathematics in its pure form, as arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and the applications of the analytic method, as well as mathematics applied to matter and force, or statics and dynamics, furnishes the peculiar study that gives to us, whether as children or as men, the command of nature in this its quantitative aspect; mathematics furnishes the instrument, the tool of thought, which we wield in this realm.
In Psychologic Foundations of Education (1898), 325.
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Mathematics, including not merely Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, and the higher Calculus, but also the applied Mathematics of Natural Philosophy, has a marked and peculiar method or character; it is by preeminence deductive or demonstrative, and exhibits in a nearly perfect form all the machinery belonging to this mode of obtaining truth. Laying down a very small number of first principles, either self-evident or requiring very little effort to prove them, it evolves a vast number of deductive truths and applications, by a procedure in the highest degree mathematical and systematic.
In Education as a Science (1879), 148.
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Metaphor … may be said to be the algebra of language.
Reflection 229, in Lacon: or Many things in Few Words; Addressed to Those Who Think (1820), 120.
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Money, mechanization, algebra. The three monsters of contemporary civilization. Complete analogy.
In Gravity and Grace (1952), 209.
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Most, if not all, of the great ideas of modern mathematics have had their origin in observation. Take, for instance, the arithmetical theory of forms, of which the foundation was laid in the diophantine theorems of Fermat, left without proof by their author, which resisted all efforts of the myriad-minded Euler to reduce to demonstration, and only yielded up their cause of being when turned over in the blow-pipe flame of Gauss’s transcendent genius; or the doctrine of double periodicity, which resulted from the observation of Jacobi of a purely analytical fact of transformation; or Legendre’s law of reciprocity; or Sturm’s theorem about the roots of equations, which, as he informed me with his own lips, stared him in the face in the midst of some mechanical investigations connected (if my memory serves me right) with the motion of compound pendulums; or Huyghen’s method of continued fractions, characterized by Lagrange as one of the principal discoveries of that great mathematician, and to which he appears to have been led by the construction of his Planetary Automaton; or the new algebra, speaking of which one of my predecessors (Mr. Spottiswoode) has said, not without just reason and authority, from this chair, “that it reaches out and indissolubly connects itself each year with fresh branches of mathematics, that the theory of equations has become almost new through it, algebraic geometry transfigured in its light, that the calculus of variations, molecular physics, and mechanics” (he might, if speaking at the present moment, go on to add the theory of elasticity and the development of the integral calculus) “have all felt its influence”.
In 'A Plea for the Mathematician', Nature, 1, 238 in Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2, 655-56.
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Music has much resemblance to algebra.
From Ludwig Tieck and Fr. Schlegel (eds.) Novalis schriften (1837), Vol. 2, 313. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 190, from the original German, “Die Musik hat viel Aehnlichkeit mit der Algebra.”
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My [algebraic] methods are really methods of working and thinking; this is why they have crept in everywhere anonymously.
Letter to H. Hasse (1931). As quoted in Israel Kleiner, A History of Abstract Algebra (2007), 100. The author used the quote to remark on Noether’s widespread influence, either directly or indirectly, for the introduction of algebra (her specialty) or its terminology into a variety of mathematical fields in the twentieth century.
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No one for a moment can pretend that printing is so great a discovery as writing, or algebra as a language.
Lothair (1879), preface, xvii.
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Nothing has afforded me so convincing a proof of the unity of the Deity as these purely mental conceptions of numerical and mathematical science which have been by slow degrees vouchsafed to man, and are still granted in these latter times by the Differential Calculus, now superseded by the Higher Algebra, all of which must have existed in that sublimely omniscient Mind from eternity.
Martha Somerville (ed.) Personal Recollections, from Early Life to Old Age, of Mary Somerville (1874), 140-141.
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Of possible quadruple algebras the one that had seemed to him by far the most beautiful and remarkable was practically identical with quaternions, and that he thought it most interesting that a calculus which so strongly appealed to the human mind by its intrinsic beauty and symmetry should prove to be especially adapted to the study of natural phenomena. The mind of man and that of Nature’s God must work in the same channels.
As quoted in W. E. Byerly (writing as a Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, but a former student at a Peirce lecture on Hamilton’s new calculus of quaternions), 'Benjamin Peirce: II. Reminiscences', The American Mathematical Monthly (Jan 1925), 32, No. 1, 6.
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Oh these mathematicians make me tired! When you ask them to work out a sum they take a piece of paper, cover it with rows of A’s, B’s, and X's and Y’s … scatter a mess of flyspecks over them, and then give you an answer that’s all wrong!
Matthew Josephson, Edison (1959), 283.
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One striking peculiarity of mathematics is its unlimited power of evolving examples and problems. A student may read a book of Euclid, or a few chapters of Algebra, and within that limited range of knowledge it is possible to set him exercises as real and as interesting as the propositions themselves which he has studied; deductions which might have pleased the Greek geometers, and algebraic propositions which Pascal and Fermat would not have disdained to investigate.
In 'Private Study of Mathematics', Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 82.
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Perhaps the least inadequate description of the general scope of modern Pure Mathematics—I will not call it a definition—would be to say that it deals with form, in a very general sense of the term; this would include algebraic form, functional relationship, the relations of order in any ordered set of entities such as numbers, and the analysis of the peculiarities of form of groups of operations.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Sheffield, Section A, Nature (1 Sep 1910), 84, 287.
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Professor Sylvester’s first high class at the new university Johns Hopkins consisted of only one student, G. B. Halsted, who had persisted in urging Sylvester to lecture on the modem algebra. The attempt to lecture on this subject led him into new investigations in quantics.
In Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 264.
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Quantity is that which is operated with according to fixed mutually consistent laws. Both operator and operand must derive their meaning from the laws of operation. In the case of ordinary algebra these are the three laws already indicated [the commutative, associative, and distributive laws], in the algebra of quaternions the same save the law of commutation for multiplication and division, and so on. It may be questioned whether this definition is sufficient, and it may be objected that it is vague; but the reader will do well to reflect that any definition must include the linear algebras of Peirce, the algebra of logic, and others that may be easily imagined, although they have not yet been developed. This general definition of quantity enables us to see how operators may be treated as quantities, and thus to understand the rationale of the so called symbolical methods.
In 'Mathematics', Encyclopedia Britannica (9th ed.).
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Quite distinct from the theoretical question of the manner in which mathematics will rescue itself from the perils to which it is exposed by its own prolific nature is the practical problem of finding means of rendering available for the student the results which have been already accumulated, and making it possible for the learner to obtain some idea of the present state of the various departments of mathematics. … The great mass of mathematical literature will be always contained in Journals and Transactions, but there is no reason why it should not be rendered far more useful and accessible than at present by means of treatises or higher text-books. The whole science suffers from want of avenues of approach, and many beautiful branches of mathematics are regarded as difficult and technical merely because they are not easily accessible. … I feel very strongly that any introduction to a new subject written by a competent person confers a real benefit on the whole science. The number of excellent text-books of an elementary kind that are published in this country makes it all the more to be regretted that we have so few that are intended for the advanced student. As an example of the higher kind of text-book, the want of which is so badly felt in many subjects, I may mention the second part of Prof. Chrystal’s Algebra published last year, which in a small compass gives a great mass of valuable and fundamental knowledge that has hitherto been beyond the reach of an ordinary student, though in reality lying so close at hand. I may add that in any treatise or higher text-book it is always desirable that references to the original memoirs should be given, and, if possible, short historic notices also. I am sure that no subject loses more than mathematics by any attempt to dissociate it from its history.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section A (1890), Nature, 42, 466.
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Science only means knowledge; and for [Greek] ancients it did only mean knowledge. Thus the favorite science of the Greeks was Astronomy, because it was as abstract as Algebra. ... We may say that the great Greek ideal was to have no use for useful things. The Slave was he who learned useful things; the Freeman was he who learned useless things. This still remains the ideal of many noble men of science, in the sense they do desire truth as the great Greeks desired it; and their attitude is an external protest against vulgarity of utilitarianism.
'About Beliefs', in As I was Saying: A Book of Essays (1936), 65-66. Collected in G. K. Chesterton and Dale Ahlquist (ed.), In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton (2011), 318.
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Sir Isaac Newton, though so deep in algebra and fluxions, could not readily make up a common account: and, when he was Master of the Mint, used to get somebody else to make up his accounts for him.
As recalled and recorded in Joseph Spence and Edmund Malone (ed.) Anecdotes, Observations, and Characters of Books and Men (1858), 132.
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Stand firm in your refusal to remain conscious during algebra. In real life, I assure you, there is no such thing as algebra.
In 'Tips for Teens,' Social Studies (1981), 27.
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Standard mathematics has recently been rendered obsolete by the discovery that for years we have been writing the numeral five backward. This has led to reevaluation of counting as a method of getting from one to ten. Students are taught advanced concepts of Boolean algebra, and formerly unsolvable equations are dealt with by threats of reprisals.
Getting Even (1978), 44.
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Suppose then I want to give myself a little training in the art of reasoning; suppose I want to get out of the region of conjecture and probability, free myself from the difficult task of weighing evidence, and putting instances together to arrive at general propositions, and simply desire to know how to deal with my general propositions when I get them, and how to deduce right inferences from them; it is clear that I shall obtain this sort of discipline best in those departments of thought in which the first principles are unquestionably true. For in all our thinking, if we come to erroneous conclusions, we come to them either by accepting false premises to start with—in which case our reasoning, however good, will not save us from error; or by reasoning badly, in which case the data we start from may be perfectly sound, and yet our conclusions may be false. But in the mathematical or pure sciences,—geometry, arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, the calculus of variations or of curves,— we know at least that there is not, and cannot be, error in our first principles, and we may therefore fasten our whole attention upon the processes. As mere exercises in logic, therefore, these sciences, based as they all are on primary truths relating to space and number, have always been supposed to furnish the most exact discipline. When Plato wrote over the portal of his school. “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here,” he did not mean that questions relating to lines and surfaces would be discussed by his disciples. On the contrary, the topics to which he directed their attention were some of the deepest problems,— social, political, moral,—on which the mind could exercise itself. Plato and his followers tried to think out together conclusions respecting the being, the duty, and the destiny of man, and the relation in which he stood to the gods and to the unseen world. What had geometry to do with these things? Simply this: That a man whose mind has not undergone a rigorous training in systematic thinking, and in the art of drawing legitimate inferences from premises, was unfitted to enter on the discussion of these high topics; and that the sort of logical discipline which he needed was most likely to be obtained from geometry—the only mathematical science which in Plato’s time had been formulated and reduced to a system. And we in this country [England] have long acted on the same principle. Our future lawyers, clergy, and statesmen are expected at the University to learn a good deal about curves, and angles, and numbers and proportions; not because these subjects have the smallest relation to the needs of their lives, but because in the very act of learning them they are likely to acquire that habit of steadfast and accurate thinking, which is indispensable to success in all the pursuits of life.
In Lectures on Teaching (1906), 891-92.
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Surely the claim of mathematics to take a place among the liberal arts must now be admitted as fully made good. Whether we look at the advances made in modern geometry, in modern integral calculus, or in modern algebra, in each of these three a free handling of the material employed is now possible, and an almost unlimited scope is left to the regulated play of fancy. It seems to me that the whole of aesthetic (so far as at present revealed) may be regarded as a scheme having four centres, which may be treated as the four apices of a tetrahedron, namely Epic, Music, Plastic, and Mathematic. There will be found a common plane to every three of these, outside of which lies the fourth; and through every two may be drawn a common axis opposite to the axis passing through the other two. So far is certain and demonstrable. I think it also possible that there is a centre of gravity to each set of three, and that the line joining each such centre with the outside apex will intersect in a common point the centre of gravity of the whole body of aesthetic; but what that centre is or must be I have not had time to think out.
In 'Proof of the Hitherto Undemonstrated Fundamental Theorem of Invariants', Collected Mathematical Papers (1909), Vol. 3, 123.
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Symbolism is useful because it makes things difficult. Now in the beginning everything is self-evident, and it is hard to see whether one self-evident proposition follows from another or not. Obviousness is always the enemy to correctness. Hence we must invent a new and difficult symbolism in which nothing is obvious. … Thus the whole of Arithmetic and Algebra has been shown to require three indefinable notions and five indemonstrable propositions.
In International Monthly (1901), 4, 85-86.
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The ancients devoted a lifetime to the study of arithmetic; it required days to extract a square root or to multiply two numbers together. Is there any harm in skipping all that, in letting the school boy learn multiplication sums, and in starting his more abstract reasoning at a more advanced point? Where would be the harm in letting the boy assume the truth of many propositions of the first four books of Euclid, letting him assume their truth partly by faith, partly by trial? Giving him the whole fifth book of Euclid by simple algebra? Letting him assume the sixth as axiomatic? Letting him, in fact, begin his severer studies where he is now in the habit of leaving off? We do much less orthodox things. Every here and there in one’s mathematical studies one makes exceedingly large assumptions, because the methodical study would be ridiculous even in the eyes of the most pedantic of teachers. I can imagine a whole year devoted to the philosophical study of many things that a student now takes in his stride without trouble. The present method of training the mind of a mathematical teacher causes it to strain at gnats and to swallow camels. Such gnats are most of the propositions of the sixth book of Euclid; propositions generally about incommensurables; the use of arithmetic in geometry; the parallelogram of forces, etc., decimals.
In Teaching of Mathematics (1904), 12.
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The application of algebra to geometry…, far more than any of his metaphysical speculations, immortalized the name of Descartes, and constitutes the greatest single step ever made in the progress of the exact sciences.
In An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1865), 531.
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The constructions of the mathematical mind are at the same time free and necessary. The individual mathematician feels free to define his notions and set up his axioms as he pleases. But the question is will he get his fellow-mathematician interested in the constructs of his imagination. We cannot help the feeling that certain mathematical structures which have evolved through the combined efforts of the mathematical community bear the stamp of a necessity not affected by the accidents of their historical birth. Everybody who looks at the spectacle of modern algebra will be struck by this complementarity of freedom and necessity.
In 'A Half-Century of Mathematics',The American Mathematical Monthly (Oct 1951), 58, No. 8, 538-539.
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The ends to be attained [in Teaching of Mathematics in the secondary schools] are the knowledge of a body of geometrical truths, the power to draw correct inferences from given premises, the power to use algebraic processes as a means of finding results in practical problems, and the awakening of interest in the science of mathematics.
In 'Aim of the Mathematical Instruction', International Commission on Teaching of Mathematics, American Report: United States Bureau of Education: Bulletin 1912, No. 4, 7.
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The ideas which these sciences, Geometry, Theoretical Arithmetic and Algebra involve extend to all objects and changes which we observe in the external world; and hence the consideration of mathematical relations forms a large portion of many of the sciences which treat of the phenomena and laws of external nature, as Astronomy, Optics, and Mechanics. Such sciences are hence often termed Mixed Mathematics, the relations of space and number being, in these branches of knowledge, combined with principles collected from special observation; while Geometry, Algebra, and the like subjects, which involve no result of experience, are called Pure Mathematics.
In The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1868), Part 1, Bk. 2, chap. 1, sect. 4.
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The influence of the Mongols, who were Arabs without Aristotle and without algebra, contributed nothing on the level of proto-scientific concepts and interests.
As given in Efthymios Nicolaidis, Science and Eastern Orthodoxy: From the Greek Fathers to the Age of (2011), 140.
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The logic of the subject [algebra], which, both educationally and scientifically speaking, is the most important part of it, is wholly neglected. The whole training consists in example grinding. What should have been merely the help to attain the end has become the end itself. The result is that algebra, as we teach it, is neither an art nor a science, but an ill-digested farrago of rules, whose object is the solution of examination problems. … The result, so far as problems worked in examinations go, is, after all, very miserable, as the reiterated complaints of examiners show; the effect on the examinee is a well-known enervation of mind, an almost incurable superficiality, which might be called Problematic Paralysis—a disease which unfits a man to follow an argument extending beyond the length of a printed octavo page.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science (1885), Nature, 32, 447-448.
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The mathematics of the twenty-first century may be very different from our own; perhaps the schoolboy will begin algebra with the theory of substitution groups, as he might now but for inherited habits.
From Address before the New York Mathematical Society, Bulletin of the New York Mathematical Society (1893), 3, 107. As cited in G.A. Miller, 'Appreciative Remarks on the Theory of Groups', The American Mathematical Monthly (1903), 10, No. 4, 89. https://books.google.com/books?id=hkM0AQAAMAAJ 1903
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The most striking characteristic of the written language of algebra and of the higher forms of the calculus is the sharpness of definition, by which we are enabled to reason upon the symbols by the mere laws of verbal logic, discharging our minds entirely of the meaning of the symbols, until we have reached a stage of the process where we desire to interpret our results. The ability to attend to the symbols, and to perform the verbal, visible changes in the position of them permitted by the logical rules of the science, without allowing the mind to be perplexed with the meaning of the symbols until the result is reached which you wish to interpret, is a fundamental part of what is called analytical power. Many students find themselves perplexed by a perpetual attempt to interpret not only the result, but each step of the process. They thus lose much of the benefit of the labor-saving machinery of the calculus and are, indeed, frequently incapacitated for using it.
In 'Uses of Mathesis', Bibliotheca Sacra (Jul 1875), 32, 505.
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The reader will find no figures in this work. The methods which I set forth do not require either constructions or geometrical or mechanical reasonings: but only algebraic operations, subject to a regular and uniform rule of procedure.
From the original French, “On ne trouvera point de Figures dans set Ouvrage. Les méthodes que j’y expose ne demandent ni constructions, ni raisonnements géométriqus ou méchaniques, mais seulement des opérations algébriques, assujetties à une march régulière et uniforme.” In 'Avertissement', Mécanique Analytique (1788, 1811), Vol. 1, i. English version as given in Cornelius Lanczos, The Variational Principles of Mechanics (1966), Vol. 1, 347.
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The same algebraic sum of positive and negative charges in the nucleus, when the arithmetical sum is different, gives what I call “isotopes” or “isotopic elements,” because they occupy the same place in the periodic table. They are chemically identical, and save only as regards the relatively few physical properties which depend upon atomic mass directly, physically identical also. Unit changes of this nuclear charge, so reckoned algebraically, give the successive places in the periodic table. For any one “place” or any one nuclear charge, more than one number of electrons in the outer-ring system may exist, and in such a case the element exhibits variable valency. But such changes of number, or of valency, concern only the ring and its external environment. There is no in- and out-going of electrons between ring and nucleus.
Concluding paragraph of 'Intra-atomic Charge', Nature (1913), 92, 400. Collected in Alfred Romer, Radiochemistry and the Discovery of Isotopes (1970), 251-252.
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The science of calculation … is indispensable as far as the extraction of the square and cube roots: Algebra as far as the quadratic equation and the use of logarithms are often of value in ordinary cases: but all beyond these is but a luxury; a delicious luxury indeed; but not to be indulged in by one who is to have a profession to follow for his subsistence.
In Letter (18 Jun 1799) to William G. Munford. On founders.archives.gov website.
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The steady progress of physics requires for its theoretical formulation a mathematics which get continually more advanced. ... it was expected that mathematics would get more and more complicated, but would rest on a permanent basis of axioms and definitions, while actually the modern physical developments have required a mathematics that continually shifts its foundation and gets more abstract. Non-euclidean geometry and noncommutative algebra, which were at one time were considered to be purely fictions of the mind and pastimes of logical thinkers, have now been found to be very necessary for the description of general facts of the physical world. It seems likely that this process of increasing abstraction will continue in the future and the advance in physics is to be associated with continual modification and generalisation of the axioms at the base of mathematics rather than with a logical development of any one mathematical scheme on a fixed foundation.
Introduction to a paper on magnetic monopoles, 'Quantised singularities in the electromagnetic field', Proceedings of the Royal Society of Lonndon (1931), A, 133 60. In Helge Kragh, Dirac: a Scientific Biography (1990), 208.
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The teacher manages to get along still with the cumbersome algebraic analysis, in spite of its difficulties and imperfections, and avoids the smooth infinitesimal calculus, although the eighteenth century shyness toward it had long lost all point.
Elementary Mathematics From an Advanced Standpoint (1908). 3rd edition (1924), trans. E. R. Hedrick and C. A. Noble (1932), Vol. 1, 155.
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Then I have more than an impression—it amounts to a certainty—that algebra is made repellent by the unwillingness or inability of teachers to explain why we suddenly start using a and b, what exponents mean apart from their handling, and how the paradoxical behavior of + and — came into being. There is no sense of history behind the teaching, so the feeling is given that the whole system dropped down readymade from the skies, to be used only by born jugglers. This is what paralyzes—with few exceptions—the infant, the adolescent, or the adult who is not a juggler himself.
In Teacher in America (1945), 82.
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There are three ruling ideas, three so to say, spheres of thought, which pervade the whole body of mathematical science, to some one or other of which, or to two or all three of them combined, every mathematical truth admits of being referred; these are the three cardinal notions, of Number, Space and Order.
Arithmetic has for its object the properties of number in the abstract. In algebra, viewed as a science of operations, order is the predominating idea. The business of geometry is with the evolution of the properties of space, or of bodies viewed as existing in space.
In 'A Probationary Lecture on Geometry, York British Association Report (1844), Part 2; Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2, 5.
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There is in every step of an arithmetical or algebraical calculation a real induction, a real inference from facts to facts, and what disguises the induction is simply its comprehensive nature, and the consequent extreme generality of its language.
In System of Logic, Bk. 2, chap. 6, 2.
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There is only one subject matter for education, and that is Life in all its manifestations. Instead of this single unity, we offer children—Algebra, from which nothing follows; Geometry, from which nothing follows; Science, from which nothing follows; History, from which nothing follows; a Couple of Languages, never mastered; and lastly, most dreary of all, Literature, represented by plays of Shakespeare, with philological notes and short analyses of plot and character to be in substance committed to memory.
In 'The Aims of Education', The Aims of Education: & Other Essays (1917), 10.
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There isn’t one, not one, instance where it’s known what pattern of neural connectivity realizes a certain cognitive content, inate or learned, in either the infant’s nervous system or the adult’s. To be sure, our brains must somehow register the contents of our mental states. The trouble is: Nobody knows how—by what neurological means—they do so. Nobody can look at the patterns of connectivity (or of anything else) in a brain and figure out whether it belongs to somebody who knows algebra, or who speaks English, or who believes that Washington was the Father of his country.
In Critical Condition: Polemic Essays on Cognitive science and the Philosophy of the Mind (1988), 269-71. In Vinoth Ramachandra, Subverting Global Myths: Theology and the Public Issues Shaping our World (2008), 180.
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These sciences, Geometry, Theoretical Arithmetic and Algebra, have no principles besides definitions and axioms, and no process of proof but deduction; this process, however, assuming a most remarkable character; and exhibiting a combination of simplicity and complexity, of rigour and generality, quite unparalleled in other subjects.
In The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1858), Part 1, Bk. 2, chap. 1, sect. 2.
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This whole theory of electrostatics constitutes a group of abstract ideas and general propositions, formulated in the clear and precise language of geometry and algebra, and connected with one another by the rules of strict logic. This whole fully satisfies the reason of a French physicist and his taste for clarity, simplicity and order. The same does not hold for the Englishman. These abstract notions of material points, force, line of force, and equipotential surface do not satisfy his need to imagine concrete, material, visible, and tangible things. 'So long as we cling to this mode of representation,' says an English physicist, 'we cannot form a mental representation of the phenomena which are really happening.' It is to satisfy the need that he goes and creates a model.
The French or German physicist conceives, in the space separating two conductors, abstract lines of force having no thickness or real existence; the English physicist materializes these lines and thickens them to the dimensions of a tube which he will fill with vulcanised rubber. In place of a family of lines of ideal forces, conceivable only by reason, he will have a bundle of elastic strings, visible and tangible, firmly glued at both ends to the surfaces of the two conductors, and, when stretched, trying both to contact and to expand. When the two conductors approach each other, he sees the elastic strings drawing closer together; then he sees each of them bunch up and grow large. Such is the famous model of electrostatic action imagined by Faraday and admired as a work of genius by Maxwell and the whole English school.
The employment of similar mechanical models, recalling by certain more or less rough analogies the particular features of the theory being expounded, is a regular feature of the English treatises on physics. Here is a book* [by Oliver Lodge] intended to expound the modern theories of electricity and to expound a new theory. In it are nothing but strings which move around pulleys, which roll around drums, which go through pearl beads, which carry weights; and tubes which pump water while others swell and contract; toothed wheels which are geared to one another and engage hooks. We thought we were entering the tranquil and neatly ordered abode of reason, but we find ourselves in a factory.
*Footnote: O. Lodge, Les Théories Modernes (Modern Views on Electricity) (1889), 16.
The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory (1906), 2nd edition (1914), trans. Philip P. Wiener (1954), 70-1.
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Till Algebra, that great Instrument and Instance of Humane Sagacity, was discovered, Men, with amazement, looked on several of the Demonstrations of ancient Mathematicians, and could scarce forbear to think the finding some of those Proofs, more than humane.
In 'Of Reason', Essay Concerning Humane Understanding (1690), Book 4, Ch. 17, Sec. 11, 345. Note: humane (obsolete) = human.
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Time was when all the parts of the subject were dissevered, when algebra, geometry, and arithmetic either lived apart or kept up cold relations of acquaintance confined to occasional calls upon one another; but that is now at an end; they are drawn together and are constantly becoming more and more intimately related and connected by a thousand fresh ties, and we may confidently look forward to a time when they shall form but one body with one soul.
In Presidential Address to British Association (19 Aug 1869), 'A Plea for the Mathematician', published in Nature (6 Jan 1870), 1, 262.
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To speak algebraically, Mr. M. is execrable, but Mr. C. is x plus 1 -ecrable.
In The Works of Edgar Allan Poe (1849), Vol. 3, 279. Poe used this remark to summarize his low opinion of the works of two fellow writers, after stating that if Cornelius Mathews were not “the very worst poet that ever existed on the face of the earth, it is only because he is not quite so bad as” William Ellery Channing.
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Today it is no longer questioned that the principles of the analysts are the more far-reaching. Indeed, the synthesists lack two things in order to engage in a general theory of algebraic configurations: these are on the one hand a definition of imaginary elements, on the other an interpretation of general algebraic concepts. Both of these have subsequently been developed in synthetic form, but to do this the essential principle of synthetic geometry had to be set aside. This principle which manifests itself so brilliantly in the theory of linear forms and the forms of the second degree, is the possibility of immediate proof by means of visualized constructions.
In Riemannsche Flächen (1906), Bd. 1, 234.
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Two extreme views have always been held as to the use of mathematics. To some, mathematics is only measuring and calculating instruments, and their interest ceases as soon as discussions arise which cannot benefit those who use the instruments for the purposes of application in mechanics, astronomy, physics, statistics, and other sciences. At the other extreme we have those who are animated exclusively by the love of pure science. To them pure mathematics, with the theory of numbers at the head, is the only real and genuine science, and the applications have only an interest in so far as they contain or suggest problems in pure mathematics.
Of the two greatest mathematicians of modern tunes, Newton and Gauss, the former can be considered as a representative of the first, the latter of the second class; neither of them was exclusively so, and Newton’s inventions in the science of pure mathematics were probably equal to Gauss’s work in applied mathematics. Newton’s reluctance to publish the method of fluxions invented and used by him may perhaps be attributed to the fact that he was not satisfied with the logical foundations of the Calculus; and Gauss is known to have abandoned his electro-dynamic speculations, as he could not find a satisfying physical basis. …
Newton’s greatest work, the Principia, laid the foundation of mathematical physics; Gauss’s greatest work, the Disquisitiones Arithmeticae, that of higher arithmetic as distinguished from algebra. Both works, written in the synthetic style of the ancients, are difficult, if not deterrent, in their form, neither of them leading the reader by easy steps to the results. It took twenty or more years before either of these works received due recognition; neither found favour at once before that great tribunal of mathematical thought, the Paris Academy of Sciences. …
The country of Newton is still pre-eminent for its culture of mathematical physics, that of Gauss for the most abstract work in mathematics.
In History of European Thought in the Nineteenth Century (1903), 630.
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Two kinds of symbol must surely be distinguished. The algebraic symbol comes naked into the world of mathematics and is clothed with value by its masters. A poetic symbol—like the Rose, for Love, in Guillaume de Lorris—comes trailing clouds of glory from the real world, clouds whose shape and colour largely determine and explain its poetic use. In an equation, x and y will do as well as a and b; but the Romance of the Rose could not, without loss, be re-written as the Romance of the Onion, and if a man did not see why, we could only send him back to the real world to study roses, onions, and love, all of them still untouched by poetry, still raw.
C.S. Lewis and E.M. Tillyard, The Personal Heresy: A Controversy (1936), 97.
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We do not listen with the best regard to the verses of a man who is only a poet, nor to his problems if he is only an algebraist; but if a man is at once acquainted with the geometric foundation of things and with their festal splendor, his poetry is exact and his arithmetic musical.
In 'Works and Days', Society and Solitude (1883), Chap. 7, 171.
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We may always depend on it that algebra, which cannot be translated into good English and sound common sense, is bad algebra.
In Common Sense in the Exact Sciences (1885), 21.
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We may see how unexpectedly recondite parts of pure mathematics may bear upon physical science, by calling to mind the circumstance that Fresnel obtained one of the most curious confirmations of the theory (the laws of Circular Polarization by reflection) through an interpretation of an algebraical expression, which, according to the original conventional meaning of the symbols, involved an impossible quantity.
In History of Scientific Ideas, Bk. 2, chap. 14, sect. 8.
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We [Irving Kaplansky and Paul Halmos] share a philosophy about linear algebra: we think basis-free, we write basis-free , but when the chips are down we close the office door and compute with matrices like fury.
In Paul Halmos: Celebrating 50 Years of Mathematics (1991), 88.
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Weierstrass related … that he followed Sylvester’s papers on the theory of algebraic forms very attentively until Sylvester began to employ Hebrew characters. That was more than he could stand and after that he quit him.
From Naturwissenschaftliche Rundschau (1897), 12 (1897), 361. As cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 180.
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[In addition to classical, literary and philosophical studies,] I devoured without much appetite the Elements of Algebra and Geometry…. From these serious and scientific pursuits I derived a maturity of judgement, a philosophic spirit, of more value than the sciences themselves…. I could extract and digest the nutritive particles of every species of litterary food.
In The Autobiographies of Edward Gibbon (1896), 235. [“litterary” is sic.]
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[J.J.] Sylvester’s methods! He had none. “Three lectures will be delivered on a New Universal Algebra,” he would say; then, “The course must be extended to twelve.” It did last all the rest of that year. The following year the course was to be Substitutions-Théorie, by Netto. We all got the text. He lectured about three times, following the text closely and stopping sharp at the end of the hour. Then he began to think about matrices again. “I must give one lecture a week on those,” he said. He could not confine himself to the hour, nor to the one lecture a week. Two weeks were passed, and Netto was forgotten entirely and never mentioned again. Statements like the following were not unfrequent in his lectures: “I haven’t proved this, but I am as sure as I can be of anything that it must be so. From this it will follow, etc.” At the next lecture it turned out that what he was so sure of was false. Never mind, he kept on forever guessing and trying, and presently a wonderful discovery followed, then another and another. Afterward he would go back and work it all over again, and surprise us with all sorts of side lights. He then made another leap in the dark, more treasures were discovered, and so on forever.
As quoted by Florian Cajori, in Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 265-266.
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[Mathematics] is security. Certainty. Truth. Beauty. Insight. Structure. Architecture. I see mathematics, the part of human knowledge that I call mathematics, as one thing—one great, glorious thing. Whether it is differential topology, or functional analysis, or homological algebra, it is all one thing. … They are intimately interconnected, they are all facets of the same thing. That interconnection, that architecture, is secure truth and is beauty. That’s what mathematics is to me.
From interview with Donald J. Albers. In John H. Ewing and Frederick W. Gehring, Paul Halmos Celebrating 50 Years of Mathematics (1991), 13.
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“Divide et impera” is as true in algebra as in statecraft; but no less true and even more fertile is the maxim “auge et impera”.The more to do or to prove, the easier the doing or the proof.
In 'Proof of the Fundamental Theorem of Invariants', Philosophic Magazine (1878), 186. In Collected Mathematical Papers, 3, 126. [The Latin phrases, “Divide/auge et impera” translate as “Divide/increase and rule”.
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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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