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Author Quotes (62 quotes)

Ihm in vollem Maaße das Schicksal werde, welches in jeder Erkenntniß, … allezeit der Wahrheit zu Theil ward, der nur ein kurzes Siegesfest beschieden ist, zwischen den beiden langen Zeiträumen, wo sie als parador verdammt und als trivial geringgeschätzt wird.
[It] has always fallen to the lot of truth in every branch of knowledge, … [that] to truth only a brief celebration of victory is allowed between the two long periods during which it is condemned as paradoxical, or disparaged as trivial. The author of truth also usually meets with the former fate.
Conclusion for Preface, written at Dresden in August 1818, first German edition, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, 4 Bücher nebst einem Anhange der die Kritik der Kentischen Philosophie (1819), xvi. As translated by E.F.J. Payne in The World as Will and Representation (1958, 1969), Vol. 1, xvii. In the preface, Schopenhauer is writing his hope that what he has written in the book will be accepted by those it reaches. Notice the statement of three stages of truth: condemnation; acceptance; trivializing. It may be the source of a condensed quote attributed (wrongly?) to Schopenhauer—seen in this collection as the quote that begins, “All truth passes through three stages…”
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That was excellently observ'd, say I, when I read a Passage in an Author, where his Opinion agrees with mine. When we differ, there I pronounce him to be mistaken.
In 'Thoughts On Various Subjects' (1727), collected in The Works of Jonathan Swift (1746), Vol. 1, 318.
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[Students or readers about teachers or authors.] They will listen with both ears to what is said by the men just a step or two ahead of them, who stand nearest to them, and within arm’s reach. A guide ceases to be of any use when he strides so far ahead as to be hidden by the curvature of the earth.
From Lecture (5 Apr 1917) at Hackley School, Tarrytown, N.Y., 'Choosing Books', collected in Canadian Stories (1918), 150.
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A celebrated author and divine has written to me that “he has gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws.”
In Origin of Species (1860), 417.
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Acute [diseases] meaning those of which God is the author, chronic meaning those that originate in ourselves.
'Epistolary Dissertation to Dr. Cole', in The Works of Thomas Sydenham, M.D. (1850), trans. by R. G. Latham, Vol. 2, 68.
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All revolutionary advances in science may consist less of sudden and dramatic revelations than a series of transformations, of which the revolutionary significance may not be seen (except afterwards, by historians) until the last great step. In many cases the full potentiality and force of a most radical step in such a sequence of transformations may not even be manifest to its author.
The Newtonian Revolution (1980), 162.
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All science has God as its author and giver. Much is heard of the conflict between science and religion, and of the contrast between sacred and secular. There may be aspects of truth to which religion is the gate, as indeed there are aspects of truth to which particular sciences are the gate. But if there be a Creator, and if truth be one of his attributes, then everything that is true can claim his authorship, and every search for truth can claim his authority.
In Margaret Duggan (ed.), Through the Year with Michael Ramsey: Devotional Readings for Every Day (1975).
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Among the memoirs of Kirchhoff are some of uncommon beauty. … Can anything be beautiful, where the author has no time for the slightest external embellishment?—But—; it is this very simplicity, the indispensableness of each word, each letter, each little dash, that among all artists raises the mathematician nearest to the World-creator; it establishes a sublimity which is equalled in no other art, something like it exists at most in symphonic music. The Pythagoreans recognized already the similarity between the most subjective and the most objective of the arts.
In Ceremonial Speech (15 Nov 1887) celebrating the 301st anniversary of the Karl-Franzens-University Graz. Published as Gustav Robert Kirchhoff: Festrede zur Feier des 301. Gründungstages der Karl-Franzens-Universität zu Graz (1888), 28-29, as translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 186. From the original German, “Gerade unter den zuletzt erwähnten Abhandlungen Kirchhoff’s sind einige von ungewöhnlicher Schönheit. … kann etwas schön sein, wo dem Autor auch zur kleinsten äusseren Ausschmückung die Zeit fehlt?–Doch–; gerade durch diese Einfachheit, durch diese Unentbehrlichkeit jedes Wortes, jedes Buchstaben, jedes Strichelchens kömmt der Mathematiker unter allen Künstlern dem Weltenschöpfer am nächsten; sie begründet eine Erhabenheit, die in keiner Kunst ein Gleiches,–Aehnliches höchstens in der symphonischen Musik hat. Erkannten doch schon die Pythagoräer die Aehnlichkeit der subjectivsten und der objectivsten der Künste.”
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An author has always great difficulty in avoiding unnecessary and tedious detail on the one hand; while, on the other, he must notice such a number of facts as may convince a student, that he is not wandering in a wilderness of crude hypotheses or unsupported assumptions.
In A Geological Manual (1832), Preface, iii.
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At this point, however, I have no intention whatever of criticizing the false teachings of Galen, who is easily first among the professors of dissection, for I certainly do not wish to start off by gaining a reputation for impiety toward him, the author of all good things, or by seeming insubordinate to his authority. For I am well aware how upset the practitioners (unlike the followers of Aristotle) invariably become nowadays, when they discover in the course of a single dissection that Galen has departed on two hundred or more occasions from the true description of the harmony, function, and action of the human parts, and how grimly they examine the dissected portions as they strive with all the zeal at their command to defend him. Yet even they, drawn by their love of truth, are gradually calming down and placing more faith in their own not ineffective eyes and reason than in Galen’s writings.
From De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem: (1543), Book I, iv, as translated by William Frank Richardson, in On The Fabric of the Human Body: Book I: The Bones and Cartilages (1998), Preface, liv.
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Every writer must reconcile, as best he may, the conflicting claims of consistency and variety, of rigour in detail and elegance in the whole. The present author humbly confesses that, to him, geometry is nothing at all, if not a branch of art.
Concluding remark in preface to Treatise on Algebraic Plane Curves (1931), x.
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Everything that is written merely to please the author is worthless.
Quoted without citation in W.H. Auden and L. Kronenberger (eds.) The Viking Book of Aphorisms (1966), 279. Webmaster has tried without success to locate a primary source. Can you help?
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First, as concerns the success of teaching mathematics. No instruction in the high schools is as difficult as that of mathematics, since the large majority of students are at first decidedly disinclined to be harnessed into the rigid framework of logical conclusions. The interest of young people is won much more easily, if sense-objects are made the starting point and the transition to abstract formulation is brought about gradually. For this reason it is psychologically quite correct to follow this course.
Not less to be recommended is this course if we inquire into the essential purpose of mathematical instruction. Formerly it was too exclusively held that this purpose is to sharpen the understanding. Surely another important end is to implant in the student the conviction that correct thinking based on true premises secures mastery over the outer world. To accomplish this the outer world must receive its share of attention from the very beginning.
Doubtless this is true but there is a danger which needs pointing out. It is as in the case of language teaching where the modern tendency is to secure in addition to grammar also an understanding of the authors. The danger lies in grammar being completely set aside leaving the subject without its indispensable solid basis. Just so in Teaching of Mathematics it is possible to accumulate interesting applications to such an extent as to stunt the essential logical development. This should in no wise be permitted, for thus the kernel of the whole matter is lost. Therefore: We do want throughout a quickening of mathematical instruction by the introduction of applications, but we do not want that the pendulum, which in former decades may have inclined too much toward the abstract side, should now swing to the other extreme; we would rather pursue the proper middle course.
In Ueber den Mathematischen Unterricht an den hoheren Schulen; Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung, Bd. 11, 131.
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For the religious, passivism [i.e., objects are obedient to the laws of nature] provides a clear role of God as the author of the laws of nature. If the laws of nature are God’s commands for an essentially passive world…, God also has the power to suspend the laws of nature, and so perform miracles.
In The Philosophy of Nature: A Guide to the New Essentialism (2002), 2.
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Geometric writings are not rare in which one would seek in vain for an idea at all novel, for a result which sooner or later might be of service, for anything in fact which might be destined to survive in the science; and one finds instead treatises on trivial problems or investigations on special forms which have absolutely no use, no importance, which have their origin not in the science itself but in the caprice of the author; or one finds applications of known methods which have already been made thousands of times; or generalizations from known results which are so easily made that the knowledge of the latter suffices to give at once the former. Now such work is not merely useless; it is actually harmful because it produces a real incumbrance in the science and an embarrassment for the more serious investigators; and because often it crowds out certain lines of thought which might well have deserved to be studied.
From 'On Some Recent Tendencies in Geometric Investigations', Rivista di Matematica (1891), 43. In Bulletin American Mathematical Society (1904), 443.
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I can see him [Sylvester] now, with his white beard and few locks of gray hair, his forehead wrinkled o’er with thoughts, writing rapidly his figures and formulae on the board, sometimes explaining as he wrote, while we, his listeners, caught the reflected sounds from the board. But stop, something is not right, he pauses, his hand goes to his forehead to help his thought, he goes over the work again, emphasizes the leading points, and finally discovers his difficulty. Perhaps it is some error in his figures, perhaps an oversight in the reasoning. Sometimes, however, the difficulty is not elucidated, and then there is not much to the rest of the lecture. But at the next lecture we would hear of some new discovery that was the outcome of that difficulty, and of some article for the Journal, which he had begun. If a text-book had been taken up at the beginning, with the intention of following it, that text-book was most likely doomed to oblivion for the rest of the term, or until the class had been made listeners to every new thought and principle that had sprung from the laboratory of his mind, in consequence of that first difficulty. Other difficulties would soon appear, so that no text-book could last more than half of the term. In this way his class listened to almost all of the work that subsequently appeared in the Journal. It seemed to be the quality of his mind that he must adhere to one subject. He would think about it, talk about it to his class, and finally write about it for the Journal. The merest accident might start him, but once started, every moment, every thought was given to it, and, as much as possible, he read what others had done in the same direction; but this last seemed to be his real point; he could not read without finding difficulties in the way of understanding the author. Thus, often his own work reproduced what had been done by others, and he did not find it out until too late.
A notable example of this is in his theory of cyclotomic functions, which he had reproduced in several foreign journals, only to find that he had been greatly anticipated by foreign authors. It was manifest, one of the critics said, that the learned professor had not read Rummer’s elementary results in the theory of ideal primes. Yet Professor Smith’s report on the theory of numbers, which contained a full synopsis of Kummer’s theory, was Professor Sylvester’s constant companion.
This weakness of Professor Sylvester, in not being able to read what others had done, is perhaps a concomitant of his peculiar genius. Other minds could pass over little difficulties and not be troubled by them, and so go on to a final understanding of the results of the author. But not so with him. A difficulty, however small, worried him, and he was sure to have difficulties until the subject had been worked over in his own way, to correspond with his own mode of thought. To read the work of others, meant therefore to him an almost independent development of it. Like the man whose pleasure in life is to pioneer the way for society into the forests, his rugged mind could derive satisfaction only in hewing out its own paths; and only when his efforts brought him into the uncleared fields of mathematics did he find his place in the Universe.
In Florian Cajori, Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 266-267.
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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 shall always feel respect for every one who has written a book, let it be what it may, for I had no idea of the trouble which trying to write common English could cost one—And alas there yet remains the worst part of all correcting the press.
Letter to W. D. Fox, 7 July 1837, referring to his Journal of Researches. In F. Burkhardt and S. Smith (eds), The Correspondence of Charles Darwin 1837-1843 (1986), Vol. 2, 29.
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If to be the Author of new things, be a crime; how will the first Civilizers of Men, and makers of Laws, and Founders of Governments escape? Whatever now delights us in the Works of Nature, that excells the rudeness of the first Creation, is New. Whatever we see in Cities, or Houses, above the first wildness of Fields, and meaness of Cottages, and nakedness of Men, had its time, when this imputation of Novelty, might as well have bin laid to its charge. It is not therefore an offence, to profess the introduction of New things, unless that which is introduc'd prove pernicious in itself; or cannot be brought in, without the extirpation of others, that are better.
The History of the Royal Society (1667), 322.
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In my opinion the English excel in the art of writing text-books for mathematical teaching; as regards the clear exposition of theories and the abundance of excellent examples, carefully selected, very few books exist in other countries which can compete with those of Salmon and many other distinguished English authors that could be named.
In Projective Geometry (1886), Preface.
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In the company of friends, writers can discuss their books, economists the state of the economy, lawyers their latest cases, and businessmen their latest acquisitions, but mathematicians cannot discuss their mathematics at all. And the more profound their work, the less understandable it is.
Reflections: Mathematics and Creativity', New Yorker (1972), 47, No. 53, 39-45. In Douglas M. Campbell, John C. Higgins (eds.), Mathematics: People, Problems, Results (1984), Vol. 2, 7.
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It has been said by a distinguished philosopher that England is “usually the last to enter into the general movement of the European mind.” The author of the remark probably meant to assert that a man or a system may have become famous on the continent, while we are almost ignorant of the name of the man and the claims of his system. Perhaps, however, a wider range might be given to the assertion. An exploded theory or a disadvantageous practice, like a rebel or a patriot in distress, seeks refuge on our shores to spend its last days in comfort if not in splendour.
Opening from essay, 'Elementary Geometry', included in The Conflict of Studies and Other Essays (1873), 136.
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It is a happy world after all. The air, the earth, the water teem with delighted existence. In a spring noon, or a summer evening, on whichever side I turn my eyes, myriads of happy beings crowd upon my view. “The insect youth are on the wing.” Swarms of new-born flies are trying their pinions in the air. Their sportive motions, their wanton mazes, their gratuitous activity testify their joy and the exultation they feel in their lately discovered faculties … The whole winged insect tribe, it is probable, are equally intent upon their proper employments, and under every variety of constitution, gratified, and perhaps equally gratified, by the offices which the author of their nature has assigned to them.
Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of The Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature (1802), 490-1.
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It is a safe rule to apply that, when a mathematical or philosophical author writes with a misty profoundity, he is talking nonsense.
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 227.
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It is impossible for us, who live in the latter ages of the world, to make observations in criticism, morality, or in any art or science, which have not been touched upon by others. We have little else left us but to represent the common sense of mankind in more strong, more beautiful, or more uncommon lights.
Spectator, No. 253. In Samuel Austin Allibone, Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay (1880), 60.
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It is known that the mathematics prescribed for the high school [Gymnasien] is essentially Euclidean, while it is modern mathematics, the theory of functions and the infinitesimal calculus, which has secured for us an insight into the mechanism and laws of nature. Euclidean mathematics is indeed, a prerequisite for the theory of functions, but just as one, though he has learned the inflections of Latin nouns and verbs, will not thereby be enabled to read a Latin author much less to appreciate the beauties of a Horace, so Euclidean mathematics, that is the mathematics of the high school, is unable to unlock nature and her laws.
In Die Mathematik die Fackelträgerin einer neuen Zeit (1889), 37-38. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 112.
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It is not surprising, in view of the polydynamic constitution of the genuinely mathematical mind, that many of the major heros of the science, men like Desargues and Pascal, Descartes and Leibnitz, Newton, Gauss and Bolzano, Helmholtz and Clifford, Riemann and Salmon and Plücker and Poincaré, have attained to high distinction in other fields not only of science but of philosophy and letters too. And when we reflect that the very greatest mathematical achievements have been due, not alone to the peering, microscopic, histologic vision of men like Weierstrass, illuminating the hidden recesses, the minute and intimate structure of logical reality, but to the larger vision also of men like Klein who survey the kingdoms of geometry and analysis for the endless variety of things that flourish there, as the eye of Darwin ranged over the flora and fauna of the world, or as a commercial monarch contemplates its industry, or as a statesman beholds an empire; when we reflect not only that the Calculus of Probability is a creation of mathematics but that the master mathematician is constantly required to exercise judgment—judgment, that is, in matters not admitting of certainty—balancing probabilities not yet reduced nor even reducible perhaps to calculation; when we reflect that he is called upon to exercise a function analogous to that of the comparative anatomist like Cuvier, comparing theories and doctrines of every degree of similarity and dissimilarity of structure; when, finally, we reflect that he seldom deals with a single idea at a tune, but is for the most part engaged in wielding organized hosts of them, as a general wields at once the division of an army or as a great civil administrator directs from his central office diverse and scattered but related groups of interests and operations; then, I say, the current opinion that devotion to mathematics unfits the devotee for practical affairs should be known for false on a priori grounds. And one should be thus prepared to find that as a fact Gaspard Monge, creator of descriptive geometry, author of the classic Applications de l’analyse à la géométrie; Lazare Carnot, author of the celebrated works, Géométrie de position, and Réflections sur la Métaphysique du Calcul infinitesimal; Fourier, immortal creator of the Théorie analytique de la chaleur; Arago, rightful inheritor of Monge’s chair of geometry; Poncelet, creator of pure projective geometry; one should not be surprised, I say, to find that these and other mathematicians in a land sagacious enough to invoke their aid, rendered, alike in peace and in war, eminent public service.
In Lectures on Science, Philosophy and Art (1908), 32-33.
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It is said that the composing of the Lilavati was occasioned by the following circumstance. Lilavati was the name of the author’s daughter, concerning whom it appeared, from the qualities of the ascendant at her birth, that she was destined to pass her life unmarried, and to remain without children. The father ascertained a lucky hour for contracting her in marriage, that she might be firmly connected and have children. It is said that when that hour approached, he brought his daughter and his intended son near him. He left the hour cup on the vessel of water and kept in attendance a time-knowing astrologer, in order that when the cup should subside in the water, those two precious jewels should be united. But, as the intended arrangement was not according to destiny, it happened that the girl, from a curiosity natural to children, looked into the cup, to observe the water coming in at the hole, when by chance a pearl separated from her bridal dress, fell into the cup, and, rolling down to the hole, stopped the influx of water. So the astrologer waited in expectation of the promised hour. When the operation of the cup had thus been delayed beyond all moderate time, the father was in consternation, and examining, he found that a small pearl had stopped the course of the water, and that the long-expected hour was passed. In short, the father, thus disappointed, said to his unfortunate daughter, I will write a book of your name, which shall remain to the latest times—for a good name is a second life, and the ground-work of eternal existence.
In Preface to the Persian translation of the Lilavati by Faizi (1587), itself translated into English by Strachey and quoted in John Taylor (trans.) Lilawati, or, A Treatise on Arithmetic and Geometry by Bhascara Acharya (1816), Introduction, 3. [The Lilavati is the 12th century treatise on mathematics by Indian mathematician, Bhaskara Acharya, born 1114.]
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It must happen that in some cases the author is not understood, or is very imperfectly understood; and the question is what is to be done. After giving a reasonable amount of attention to the passage, let the student pass on, reserving the obscurity for future efforts. … The natural tendency of solitary students, I believe, is not to hurry away prematurely from a hard passage, but to hang far too long over it; the just pride that does not like to acknowledge defeat, and the strong will that cannot endure to be thwarted, both urge to a continuance of effort even when success seems hopeless. It is only by experience we gain the conviction that when the mind is thoroughly fatigued it has neither the power to continue with advantage its course in .an assigned direction, nor elasticity to strike out a new path; but that, on the other hand, after being withdrawn for a time from the pursuit, it may return and gain the desired end.
In 'Private Study of Mathematics', Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 68.
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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, from the earliest times to which the history of human reason can reach, has followed, among that wonderful people of the Greeks, the safe way of science. But it must not be supposed that it was as easy for mathematics as for logic, in which reason is concerned with itself alone, to find, or rather to make for itself that royal road. I believe, on the contrary, that there was a long period of tentative work (chiefly still among the Egyptians), and that the change is to be ascribed to a revolution, produced by the happy thought of a single man, whose experiments pointed unmistakably to the path that had to be followed, and opened and traced out for the most distant times the safe way of a science. The history of that intellectual revolution, which was far more important than the passage round the celebrated Cape of Good Hope, and the name of its fortunate author, have not been preserved to us. … A new light flashed on the first man who demonstrated the properties of the isosceles triangle (whether his name was Thales or any other name), for he found that he had not to investigate what he saw in the figure, or the mere concepts of that figure, and thus to learn its properties; but that he had to produce (by construction) what he had himself, according to concepts a priori, placed into that figure and represented in it, so that, in order to know anything with certainty a priori, he must not attribute to that figure anything beyond what necessarily follows from what he has himself placed into it, in accordance with the concept.
In Critique of Pure Reason, Preface to the Second Edition, (1900), 690.
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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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Nevertheless, his [Dostoyevsky’s] personality retained sadistic traits in plenty, which show themselves in his irritability, his love of tormenting, and his intolerance even towards people he loved, and which appear also in the way in which, as an author, he treats his readers. Thus in little things he was a sadist towards others, and in bigger things a sadist towards himself, in fact a masochist—that is to say the mildest, kindliest, most helpful person possible.
In James Strachey (ed.), 'Dostoyevsky and Parricide', The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (1953-74), Vol. 21, 178-179. Reprinted in Writings on Art and Literature (1997), 236
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Over the past fifty years or so, scientists have allowed the conventions of expression available to them to become entirely too confining. too confining. The insistence on bland impersonality and the widespread indifference to anything like the display of a unique human author in scientific exposition, have transformed the reading of most scientific papers into an act of tedious drudgery.
In Boojums All the Way Through: Communicating Science in a Prosaic Age (1990), Preface, xi-xii.
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Relations between authors and referees are, of course, almost always strained. Authors are convinced that the malicious stupidity of the referee is alone preventing them from laying their discoveries before an admiring world. Referees are convinced that authors are too arrogant and obtuse to recognize blatant fallacies in their own reasoning, even when these have been called to their attention with crystalline lucidity. All physicists know this, because all physicists are both authors and referees, but it does no good. The ability of one person to hold both views is an example of what Bohr called complementarity.
In Boojums All the Way Through: Communicating Science in a Prosaic Age (1990), 19-20.
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Scientists wrote beautifully through the 19th century and on into the early 20th. But somewhere after that, coincident with the explosive growth of research, the art of writing science suffered a grave setback, and the stultifying convention descended that the best scientific prose should sound like a non-human author addressing a mechanical reader.
In Boojums All the Way Through: Communicating Science in a Prosaic Age (1990), Preface, xii.
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Some authors seem to believe that hypotheses are the natural product of observations as is the case for a pear tree which produces pears; therefore only one exists which is ‘the real and the good one’.
In 'Anatomie comparée des hypothèses sur les plissements de couverture (Ie jura plissée)', The Bulletin of the Geological Institutions of the University of Uppsala (1961), Vol. 40, 180-181, trans. Albert V. and Marguerite Carozzi.
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The Author of nature has not given laws to the universe, which, like the institutions of men, carry in themselves the elements of their own destruction; he has not permitted in his works any symptom of infancy or of old age, or any sign by which we may estimate either their future or their past duration. He may put an end, as he no doubt gave a beginning, to the present system at some determinate period of time; but we may rest assured, that this great catastrophe will not be brought about by the laws now existing, and that it is not indicated by any thing which we perceive.
'Biographical Account of the Late Dr James Hutton, F.R.S. Edin.' (read 1803), Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1805), 5, 55.
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The authors of literary works may not have intended all the subtleties, complexities, undertones, and overtones that are attributed to them by critics and by students writing doctoral theses.” That’s what God says about geologists, I told him...
Basin and Range
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The average English author [of mathematical texts] leaves one under the impression that he has made a bargain with his reader to put before him the truth, the greater part of the truth, and nothing but the truth; and that if he has put the facts of his subject into his book, however difficult it may be to unearth them, he has fulfilled his contract with his reader. This is a very much mistaken view, because effective teaching requires a great deal more than a bare recitation of facts, even if these are duly set forth in logical order—as in English books they often are not. The probable difficulties which will occur to the student, the objections which the intelligent student will naturally and necessarily raise to some statement of fact or theory—these things our authors seldom or never notice, and yet a recognition and anticipation of them by the author would be often of priceless value to the student. Again, a touch of humour (strange as the contention may seem) in mathematical works is not only possible with perfect propriety, but very helpful; and I could give instances of this even from the pure mathematics of Salmon and the physics of Clerk Maxwell.
In Perry, Teaching of Mathematics (1902), 59-61.
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The general knowledge of our author [Leonhard Euler] was more extensive than could well be expected, in one who had pursued, with such unremitting ardor, mathematics and astronomy as his favorite studies. He had made a very considerable progress in medical, botanical, and chemical science. What was still more extraordinary, he was an excellent scholar, and possessed in a high degree what is generally called erudition. He had attentively read the most eminent writers of ancient Rome; the civil and literary history of all ages and all nations was familiar to him; and foreigners, who were only acquainted with his works, were astonished to find in the conversation of a man, whose long life seemed solely occupied in mathematical and physical researches and discoveries, such an extensive acquaintance with the most interesting branches of literature. In this respect, no doubt, he was much indebted to an uncommon memory, which seemed to retain every idea that was conveyed to it, either from reading or from meditation.
In Philosophical and Mathematical Dictionary (1815), 493-494.
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The great object of all knowledge is to enlarge and purify the soul, to fill the mind with noble contemplations, to furnish a refined pleasure, and to lead our feeble reason from the works of nature up to its great Author and Sustainer. Considering this as the ultimate end of science, no branch of it can surely claim precedence of Astronomy. No other science furnishes such a palpable embodiment of the abstractions which lie at the foundation of our intellectual system; the great ideas of time, and space, and extension, and magnitude, and number, and motion, and power. How grand the conception of the ages on ages required for several of the secular equations of the solar system; of distances from which the light of a fixed star would not reach us in twenty millions of years, of magnitudes compared with which the earth is but a foot-ball; of starry hosts—suns like our own—numberless as the sands on the shore; of worlds and systems shooting through the infinite spaces.
Oration at Inauguration of the Dudley Astronomical Observatory, Albany (28 Jul 1856). Text published as The Uses of Astronomy (1856), 36.
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The greater part of it, I shall show, is nonsense, tricked out with a variety of tedious metaphysical conceits, and its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself. … it is the style that creates the illusion of content, and which is a cause as well as merely a symptom of Teilhard's alarming apocalyptic seizures.
Medawar’s acerbic book review of The Phenomenon of Man by Teilhard de Chardin first appeared as 'Critical Notice' in the journal Mind (1961), 70, No. 277, 99. The book review was reprinted in The Art of the Soluble: Creativity and Originality in Science (1967), 71. Medawar thus strongly contradicted other reviewers of the book, which he said was “widely held to be of the utmost profundity and significance; it created something like a sensation upon its publication in France, and some reviewers hereabouts called it the Book of the Year—one, the Book of the Century.”
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The history of this paper suggests that highly speculative investigations, especially by an unknown author, are best brought before the world through some other channel than a scientific society, which naturally hesitates to admit into its printed records matters of uncertain value. Perhaps one may go further and say that a young author who believes himself capable of great things would usually do well to secure the favourable recognition of the scientific world by work whose scope is limited and whose value is easily judged, before embarking upon higher flights.
'On the Physics of Media that are Composed of Free and Perfectly Elastic Molecules in a State of Motion', Philosophical Transactions (1892), 183, 560.
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The large collection of problems which our modern Cambridge books supply will be found to be almost an exclusive peculiarity of these books; such collections scarcely exist in foreign treatises on mathematics, nor even in English treatises of an earlier date. This fact shows, I think, that a knowledge of mathematics may be gained without the perpetual working of examples. … Do not trouble yourselves with the examples, make it your main business, I might almost say your exclusive business, to understand the text of your author.
In 'Private Study of Mathematics', Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 74.
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The latest authors, like the most ancient, strove to subordinate the phenomena of nature to the laws of mathematics.
From Principia Mathematica, Book 1, in Author’s Preface to the translation from the Latin by ‎Andrew Motte, as The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1729), Vol. 1, first unpaginated page of the Preface.
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The literature [Nobel] laureate of this year has said that an author can do anything as long as his readers believe him.
A scientist cannot do anything that is not checked and rechecked by scientists of this network before it is accepted.
Banquet speech accepting Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (10 Dec 1982). In Wilhelm Odelberg (editor) Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1982 (1983)
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The Physician, by the study and inspection of urine and ordure, approves himself in the science; and in like sort should our author accustom and exercise his imagination upon the dregs of nature.
The Works of Alexander Pope (1806), Vol. 6, 209.
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The soul seems to be a very tenuous substance … [and] seems to be made of a most subtle texture, extremely mobile or active corpuscles, not unlike those of flame or heat; indeed, whether they are spherical, as the authors of atoms propound, or pyramidical as Plato thought, or some other form, they seem from their own motion and penetration through bodies to create the heat which is in the animal.
As quoted in Margaret J. Osler and Paul Lawrence Farber (eds.), Religion, Science, and Worldview: Essays in Honor of Richard S. Westfall (2002), 169.
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The student should read his author with the most sustained attention, in order to discover the meaning of every sentence. If the book is well written, it will endure and repay his close attention: the text ought to be fairly intelligible, even without illustrative examples. Often, far too often, a reader hurries over the text without any sincere and vigorous effort to understand it; and rushes to some example to clear up what ought not to have been obscure, if it had been adequately considered. The habit of scrupulously investigating the text seems to me important on several grounds. The close scrutiny of language is a very valuable exercise both for studious and practical life. In the higher departments of mathematics the habit is indispensable: in the long investigations which occur there it would be impossible to interpose illustrative examples at every stage, the student must therefore encounter and master, sentence by sentence, an extensive and complicated argument.
In 'Private Study of Mathematics', Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 67.
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The ‘mad idea’ which will lie at the basis of a future fundamental physical theory will come from a realization that physical meaning has some mathematical form not previously associated with reality. From this point of view the problem of the ‘mad idea’ is the problem of choosing, not of generating, the right idea. One should not understand that too literally. In the 1960s it was said (in a certain connection) that the most important discovery of recent years in physics was the complex numbers. The author [Yuri Manin] has something like that in mind.
Mathematics and Physics (1981), Foreward. Reprinted in Mathematics as Metaphor: Selected Essays of Yuri I. Manin (2007), 90.
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There is always the danger in scientific work that some word or phrase will be used by different authors to express so many ideas and surmises that, unless redefined, it loses all real significance.
'Valence and Tautomerism', Journal of the American Chemical Society (1913), 35, 1448.
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Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true. The consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression. Mistrust of every kind of author ity grew out of this experience, a skeptical attitude toward the convictions that were alive in any specific social environment–an attitude that has never again left me, even though, later on, it has been tempered by a better insight into the causal connections.
…...
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Unfortunately what is little recognized is that the most worthwhile scientific books are those in which the author clearly indicates what he does not know; for an author most hurts his readers by concealing difficulties.
As quoted in Nicholas J. Rose, Mathematical Maxims and Minims (1988). Also used as an epigraph without citation in Morris Kline, Mathematical Thought From Ancient to Modern Times (1990), Vol. 2, 752. If you know the primary source, perhaps in French, please contact Webmaster.
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Very few people, including authors willing to commit to paper, ever really read primary sources–certainly not in necessary depth and contemplation, and often not at all ... When writers close themselves off to the documents of scholarship, and then rely only on seeing or asking, they become conduits and sieves rather than thinkers. When, on the other hand, you study the great works of predecessors engaged in the same struggle, you enter a dialogue with human history and the rich variety of our own intellectual traditions. You insert yourself, and your own organizing powers, into this history–and you become an active agent, not merely a ‘reporter.’
…...
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We may safely say, that the whole form of modern mathematical thinking was created by Euler. It is only with the greatest difficulty that one is able to follow the writings of any author immediately preceding Euler, because it was not yet known how to let the formulas speak for themselves. This art Euler was the first one to teach.
As quoted in W. Ahrens Scherz und Ernst in der Mathematik (1904), 251. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 183.
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When we see a natural style, we are astonished and delighted; for we expected to see an author, and we find a man.
In Pensées (1670), Section 7, No. 28. As translated in Blaise Pascal and W.F. Trotter (trans.), 'Thoughts', No. 29, collected in Charles W. Eliot (ed.), The Harvard Classics (1910), Vol. 48, 16. Translated as “When we encounter a natural style we are always surprised and delighted, for we thought to see an author and found a man,” in W.H. Auden and L. Kronenberger (eds.) The Viking Book of Aphorisms (1966), 277. From the original French, “Quand on voit le style naturel, on est tout étonné et ravi, car on s’attendait de voir un auteur, et on trouve un homme,” in Ernest Havet (ed.), Pensées de Pascal (1892), 222.
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When you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many, it’s research.
…...
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Whether true or false, others must judge; for the firmest conviction of the truth of a doctrine by its author, seems, alas, not to be the slightest guarantee of truth.
Letter (1 May 1857) to Alfred Russel Wallace. In Sir Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887), 454.
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Why there is one Body in or System qualified to give Light and Heat to all ye rest, I know no reason, but because ye author of the Systeme thought it convenient.
Letter to Bentley (10 Dec 1692). In The Works of Richard Bentley (1838), Vol. 3, 204.
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Your scientists are the proofreaders, but not the authors of the Book of Nature.
In The Life of Christ (1954), 40
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[Lockyer]... sometimes forgets he is only the editor and not the author of Nature.
[Lockyer was the first editor of Nature.]
J. W. L. Glaisher (ed.), The Collected Mathematical Papers of Henry John Stephen Smith (1894), Vol. 1, xliv.
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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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- 90 -
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