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Content Quotes (69 quotes)

Aux mathématiciens, il appartient de chercher le vrai; les philosophes doivent se contenter du probable
The concern of mathematicians is to seek the truth; philosophers must be content with the probable.
In 'Divers Opuscules' collected in Oeuvres de Vico (1835), Vol. 1, 159. Translation by Webmaster.
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Goldsmith: If you put a tub full of blood into a stable, the horses are like to go mad.
Johnson: I doubt that.
Goldsmith: Nay, sir, it is a fact well authenticated.
Thrale: You had better prove it before you put it into your book on natural history. You may do it in my stable if you will.
Johnson: Nay, sir, I would not have him prove it. If he is content to take his information from others, he may get through his book with little trouble, and without much endangering his reputation. But if he makes experiments for so comprehensive a book as his, there would be no end to them; his erroneous assertions would then fall upon himself: and he might be blamed for not having made experiments as to every particular.
In James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.: Comprehending an Account of His Studies and Numerous Works (1785, 1830), 229-230.
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Il est impossible de contempler le spectacle de l’univers étoilé sans se demander comment il s’est formé: nous devions peut-être attendre pour chercher une solution que nous ayons patiemment rassemblé les éléments …mais si nous étions si raisonnables, si nous étions curieux sans impatience, il est probable que nous n’avions jamais créé la Science et que nous nous serions toujours contentés de vivre notre petite vie. Notre esprit a donc reclamé impérieusement cette solution bien avant qu’elle fut mûre, et alors qu’il ne possédait que de vagues lueurs, lui permettant de la deviner plutôt que de l’attendre.
It is impossible to contemplate the spectacle of the starry universe without wondering how it was formed: perhaps we ought to wait, and not look for a solution until have patiently assembled the elements … but if we were so reasonable, if we were curious without impatience, it is probable we would never have created Science and we would always have been content with a trivial existence. Thus the mind has imperiously laid claim to this solution long before it was ripe, even while perceived in only faint glimmers—allowing us to guess a solution rather than wait for it.
From Leçons sur les Hypothèses Consmogoniques (1913) as cited in D. Ter Haar and A.G.W. Cameron, 'Historical Review of Theories of the Origin of the Solar System', collected in Robert Jastrow and A. G. W. Cameron (eds.), Origin of the Solar System: Proceedings of a Conference Held at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, January 23-24, 1962, (1963), 3. 'Cosmogonical Hypotheses' (1913), collected in Harlow Shapley, Source Book in Astronomy, 1900-1950 (1960), 347.
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Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason—Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge.
Letter to George and Thomas Keats (21 Dec 1817). In H. E. Rollins (ed.), Letters of John Keats (1958), Vol. 1, 193-4.
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A few days afterwards, I went to him [the same actuary referred to in another quote] and very gravely told him that I had discovered the law of human mortality in the Carlisle Table, of which he thought very highly. I told him that the law was involved in this circumstance. Take the table of the expectation of life, choose any age, take its expectation and make the nearest integer a new age, do the same with that, and so on; begin at what age you like, you are sure to end at the place where the age past is equal, or most nearly equal, to the expectation to come. “You don’t mean that this always happens?”—“Try it.” He did try, again and again; and found it as I said. “This is, indeed, a curious thing; this is a discovery!” I might have sent him about trumpeting the law of life: but I contented myself with informing him that the same thing would happen with any table whatsoever in which the first column goes up and the second goes down.
In Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 172.
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A person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings, and aspirations to which he clings because of their superpersonal value. It seems to me that what is important is the force of this superpersonal content and the depth of the conviction concerning its overpowering meaningfulness, regardless of whether any attempt is made to unite this content with a divine Being, for otherwise it would not be possible to count Buddha and Spinoza as religious personalities. Accordingly, a religious person is devout in the sense that he has no doubt of the significance and loftiness of those superpersonal objects and goals which neither require nor are capable of rational foundation. They exist with the same necessity and matter-of-factness as he himself. In this sense religion is the age-old endeavor of mankind to become clearly and completely conscious of these values and goals and constantly to strengthen and extend their effect. If one conceives of religion and science according to these definitions then a conflict between them appears impossible. For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary.
…...
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A theory is the more impressive the greater the simplicity of its premises is, the more different kinds of things it relates, and the more extended is its area of applicability. Therefore the deep impression which classical thermodynamics made upon me. It is the only physical theory of universal content concerning which I am convinced that within the framework of the applicability of its basic concepts, it will never be overthrown.
Autobiographical Notes (1946), 33. Quoted in Gerald Holton and Yehuda Elkana, Albert Einstein: Historical and Cultural Perspectives (1997), 227.
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A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used.
In Towne v. Eisner (1918), 245 U.S. 425. As quoted in Richard A. Posner (ed.), The Essential Holmes: Selections from the Letters, Speeches, Judicial Opinions, and Other Writings of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1992), 287.
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Analogy is a wonderful, useful and most important form of thinking, and biology is saturated with it. Nothing is worse than a horrible mass of undigested facts, and facts are indigestible unless there is some rhyme or reason to them. The physicist, with his facts, seeks reason; the biologist seeks something very much like rhyme, and rhyme is a kind of analogy.... This analogizing, this fine sweeping ability to see likenesses in the midst of differences is the great glory of biology, but biologists don't know it.... They have always been so fascinated and overawed by the superior prestige of exact physical science that they feel they have to imitate it.... In its central content, biology is not accurate thinking, but accurate observation and imaginative thinking, with great sweeping generalizations.
In Science is a Sacred Cow (1950), 98-100.
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Biot, who assisted Laplace in revising it [The Mécanique Céleste] for the press, says that Laplace himself was frequently unable to recover the details in the chain of reasoning, and if satisfied that the conclusions were correct, he was content to insert the constantly recurring formula, “Il est àisé a voir” [it is easy to see].
In History of Mathematics (3rd Ed., 1901), 427.
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Common-sense contents itself with the unreconciled contradiction, laughs when it can, and weeps when it must, and makes, in short, a practical compromise, without trying a theoretical solution.
From Essay, 'German Pessimism', a book review (of Der Modern Pessimismus by Edmund Pfleiderer) in Nation (7 Oct 1875), 21, No. 536, 233. Reprinted in Ralph Barton Perry (ed.), Collected Essays and Reviews by William James (1920), 17.
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Confined to its true domain, mathematical reasoning is admirably adapted to perform the universal office of sound logic: to induce in order to deduce, in order to construct. … It contents itself to furnish, in the most favorable domain, a model of clearness, of precision, and consistency, the close contemplation of which is alone able to prepare the mind to render other conceptions also as perfect as their nature permits. Its general reaction, more negative than positive, must consist, above all, in inspiring us everywhere with an invincible aversion for vagueness, inconsistency, and obscurity, which may always be really avoided in any reasoning whatsoever, if we make sufficient effort.
In Synthèse Subjective (1856), 98. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 202-203. From the original French, “Bornée à son vrai domaine, la raison mathématique y peut admirablement remplir l’office universel de la saine logique: induire pour déduire, afin de construire. … Elle se contente de former, dans le domaine le plus favorable, un type de clarté, de précision, et de consistance, dont la contemplation familière peut seule disposer l’esprit à rendre les autres conceptions aussi parfaites que le comporte leur nature. Sa réaction générale, plus négative que positive, doit surtout consister à nous inspirer partout une invincible répugnance pour le vague, l’incohérence, et l’obscurité, que nous pouvons réellement éviter envers des pensées quelconques, si nous y faisons assez d’efforts.”
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For all their wealth of content, for all the sum of history and social institution invested in them, music, mathematics, and chess are resplendently useless (applied mathematics is a higher plumbing, a kind of music for the police band). They are metaphysically trivial, irresponsible. They refuse to relate outward, to take reality for arbiter. This is the source of their witchery.
In 'A Death of Kings', George Steiner at The New Yorker (2009), 209.
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How far the main herd of metaphysicans are still lagging behind Plato; and how, for near two thousand years, they were almost all content to feed on the crumbs dropt from Aristotle’s table.
Co-author with his brother Augustus William Hare Guesses At Truth, By Two Brothers: Second Edition: With Large Additions (1848), Second Series, 13. (The volume is introduced as “more than three fourths new.” This quote is identified as by Julius; Augustus had died in 1833.)
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I am never content until I have constructed a mechanical model of the subject I am studying. If I succeed in making one, I understand. Otherwise, I do not. [Attributed; source unverified.]
Note: Webmaster has been unable to verify this quotation allegedly from his Baltimore Lectures. Is is widely quoted, usually without citation. A few instances indicate the quote came from a guest lecture, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore (1884). The lecture notes were published in Baltimore Lectures on Molecular Dynamics and the Wave Theory of Light (1904). Webmaster has found no citation giving a page number, and has been unable to find the quote in that text. Anyone with more specific information, please contact Webmaster.
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I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe, and especially the nature of man, and to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe what he can.
Letter to Asa Gray (22 May 1860). In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters (1892), 236.
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I have just received copies of “To-day” containing criticisms of my letter. I am in no way surprised to find that these criticisms are not only unfair and misleading in the extreme. They are misleading in so far that anyone reading them would be led to believe the exact opposite of the truth. It is quite possible that I, an old and trained engineer and chronic experimenter, should put an undue value upon truth; but it is common to all scientific men. As nothing but the truth is of any value to them, they naturally dislike things that are not true. ... While my training has, perhaps, warped my mind so that I put an undue value upon truth, their training has been such as to cause them to abhor exact truth and logic.
[Replying to criticism by Colonel Acklom and other religious parties attacking Maxim's earlier contribution to the controversy about the modern position of Christianity.]
In G.K. Chesterton, 'The Maxims of Maxim', Daily News (25 Feb 1905). Collected in G. K. Chesterton and Dale Ahlquist (ed.), In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton (2011), 86.
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I would be content that we might procreate like trees, without conjunction, or that there were any way to perpetuate the World without this trivial and vulgar way of coition.
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I would request that my body in death be buried, not cremated so that the energy content contained within in gets returned to the earth, so that flora and fauna can dine upon it just as I’ve dined upon flora and fauna throughout my life.
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If Watson and I had not discovered the [DNA] structure, instead of being revealed with a flourish it would have trickled out and that its impact would have been far less. For this sort of reason Stent had argued that a scientific discovery is more akin to a work of art than is generally admitted. Style, he argues, is as important as content. I am not completely convinced by this argument, at least in this case.
What Mad Pursuit (1990), 76.
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It is this mythical, or rather this symbolic, content of the religious traditions which is likely to come into conflict with science. This occurs whenever this religious stock of ideas contains dogmatically fixed statements on subjects which be long in the domain of science. Thus, it is of vital importance for the preservation of true religion that such conflicts be avoided when they arise from subjects which, in fact, are not really essential for the pursuance of the religious aims.
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It is true that mathematics, owing to the fact that its whole content is built up by means of purely logical deduction from a small number of universally comprehended principles, has not unfittingly been designated as the science of the self-evident [Selbstverständlichen]. Experience however, shows that for the majority of the cultured, even of scientists, mathematics remains the science of the incomprehensible [Unverständlichen].
In Ueber Wert und angeblichen Unwert der Mathematik, Jahresbericht der Deutschen Maihemaliker Vereinigung (1904), 357.
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It [mathematics] is in the inner world of pure thought, where all entia dwell, where is every type of order and manner of correlation and variety of relationship, it is in this infinite ensemble of eternal verities whence, if there be one cosmos or many of them, each derives its character and mode of being,—it is there that the spirit of mathesis has its home and its life.
Is it a restricted home, a narrow life, static and cold and grey with logic, without artistic interest, devoid of emotion and mood and sentiment? That world, it is true, is not a world of solar light, not clad in the colours that liven and glorify the things of sense, but it is an illuminated world, and over it all and everywhere throughout are hues and tints transcending sense, painted there by radiant pencils of psychic light, the light in which it lies. It is a silent world, and, nevertheless, in respect to the highest principle of art—the interpenetration of content and form, the perfect fusion of mode and meaning—it even surpasses music. In a sense, it is a static world, but so, too, are the worlds of the sculptor and the architect. The figures, however, which reason constructs and the mathematic vision beholds, transcend the temple and the statue, alike in simplicity and in intricacy, in delicacy and in grace, in symmetry and in poise. Not only are this home and this life thus rich in aesthetic interests, really controlled and sustained by motives of a sublimed and supersensuous art, but the religious aspiration, too, finds there, especially in the beautiful doctrine of invariants, the most perfect symbols of what it seeks—the changeless in the midst of change, abiding things hi a world of flux, configurations that remain the same despite the swirl and stress of countless hosts of curious transformations.
In 'The Universe and Beyond', Hibbert Journal (1904-1906), 3, 314.
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I’ve always been inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, who articulated his Dream of an America where people are judged not by skin color but “by the content of their character.” In the scientific world, people are judged by the content of their ideas. Advances are made with new insights, but the final arbitrator of any point of view are experiments that seek the unbiased truth, not information cherry picked to support a particular point of view.
In letter (1 Feb 2013) to Energy Department employees announcing his decision not to serve a second term.
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Mathematics as we practice it is much more formally complete and precise than other sciences, but it is much less formally complete and precise for its content than computer programs.
In 'On Proof and Progress in Mathematics', For the Learning of Mathematics (Feb 1995), 15, No. 1, 33. Reprinted from Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (1994), 30, No. 2, 170.
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Mathematics is not a book confined within a cover and bound between brazen clasps, whose contents it needs only patience to ransack; it is not a mine, whose treasures may take long to reduce into possession, but which fill only a limited number of veins and lodes; it is not a soil, whose fertility can be exhausted by the yield of successive harvests; it is not a continent or an ocean, whose area can be mapped out and its contour defined: it is limitless as that space which it finds too narrow for its aspirations; its possibilities are as infinite as the worlds which are forever crowding in and multiplying upon the astronomer’s gaze; it is as incapable of being restricted within assigned boundaries or being reduced to definitions of permanent validity, as the consciousness of life, which seems to slumber in each monad, in every atom of matter, in each leaf and bud cell, and is forever ready to burst forth into new forms of vegetable and animal existence.
From Commemoration Day Address (22 Feb 1877) at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, collected in The Collected Mathematical Papers: (1870-1883) (1909), 77-78.
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Mathematics was born and nurtured in a cultural environment. Without the perspective which the cultural background affords, a proper appreciation of the content and state of present-day mathematics is hardly possible.
In Introduction to the Foundations of Mathematics (1952), 265.
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Mathematics will not be properly esteemed in wider circles until more than the a b c of it is taught in the schools, and until the unfortunate impression is gotten rid of that mathematics serves no other purpose in instruction than the formal training of the mind. The aim of mathematics is its content, its form is a secondary consideration and need not necessarily be that historic form which is due to the circumstance that mathematics took permanent shape under the influence of Greek logic.
In Die Entivickelung der Mathematik in den letzten Jahrhunderten (1884), 6.
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Mathematics … engages, it fructifies, it quickens, compels attention, is as circumspect as inventive, induces courage and self-confidence as well as modesty and submission to truth. It yields the essence and kernel of all things, is brief in form and overflows with its wealth of content. It discloses the depth and breadth of the law and spiritual element behind the surface of phenomena; it impels from point to point and carries within itself the incentive toward progress; it stimulates the artistic perception, good taste in judgment and execution, as well as the scientific comprehension of things.
In Die Mathematik die Fackelträgerin einer neuen Zeit (1889), 40. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 49.
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Mathematics, like dialectics, is an organ of the inner higher sense; in its execution it is an art like eloquence. Both alike care nothing for the content, to both nothing is of value but the form. It is immaterial to mathematics whether it computes pennies or guineas, to rhetoric whether it defends truth or error.
From Wilhelm Meislers Wanderjahre (1829), Zweites Buch. Collected in Goethe’s Werke (1830), Vol. 22, 252. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 36-37. The same book has another translation on p.202: “Mathematics, like dialectics, is an organ of the higher sense, in its execution it is an art like eloquence. To both nothing but the form is of value; neither cares anything for content. Whether mathematics considers pennies or guineas, whether rhetoric defends truth or error, is perfectly immaterial to either.” From the original German, “Die Mathematik ist, wie die Dialektik, ein Organ des inneren höheren Sinnes, in der Ausübung ist sie eine Kunst wie die Beredsamkeit. Für beide hat nichts Wert als die Form; der Gehalt ist ihnen gleichgültig. Ob die Mathematik Pfennige oder oder Guineen berechne, die Rhetorik Wahres oder Falsches verteidige, ist beiden vollkommen gleich.”
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Mathematics, too, is a language, and as concerns its structure and content it is the most perfect language which exists, superior to any vernacular; indeed, since it is understood by every people, mathematics may be called the language of languages. Through it, as it were, nature herself speaks; through it the Creator of the world has spoken, and through it the Preserver of the world continues to speak.
In Die Mathematik die Fackeltragerin einer neutn Zeit (1889), 5. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 194. From the original German, “Denn auch die Mathematik ist eine Sprache, und zwar nach Bau und Inhalt die vollkommenste Sprache, die es giebt, höher als jede Volkssprache; ja, weil alle Völker sie verstehen, kann sie die Sprache der Sprachen heißen. In ihr spricht sozusagen die Natur selbst, in ihr hat der Schöpfer der Welt geredet und in ihr redet noch immer ihr Erhalter.”
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Nirvana is a state of pure blissful knowledge ... It has nothing to do with the individual. The ego or its separation is an illusion. Indeed in a certain sense two ‘I’s are identical namely when one disregards all special contents–their Karma. The goal of man is to preserve his Karma and to develop it further ... when man dies his Karma lives and creates for itself another carrier.
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Our brains seem to be organised to make random comparisons of the contents of our memories. Daydreaming allows the process to go into free fall. Suddenly, there is a new idea, born with intense excitement. We cannot organise this process but we can distort or even defeat it.
[Commenting that creativity is not a method that can be learnt and taught.]
Quoted in Andrew Jack, "An Acute Talent for Innovation", Financial Times (1 Feb 2009).
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Our school curricula, by stripping mathematics of its cultural content and leaving a bare skeleton of technicalities, have repelled many a fine mind.
In Number, the Language of Science: A Critical Survey Written for the Cultured Non-mathematician (1930), vii.
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Out of the interaction of form and content in mathematics grows an acquaintance with methods which enable the student to produce independently within certain though moderate limits, and to extend his knowledge through his own reflection. The deepening of the consciousness of the intellectual powers connected with this kind of activity, and the gradual awakening of the feeling of intellectual self-reliance may well be considered as the most beautiful and highest result of mathematical training.
In 'Ueber Wert und angeblichen Unwert der Mathematik', Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung (1904), 374.
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Perfect as the wing of a bird may be, it will never enable the bird to fly if unsupported by the air. Facts are the air of science. Without them a man of science can never rise. Without them your theories are vain surmises. But while you are studying, observing, experimenting, do not remain content with the surface of things. Do not become a mere recorder of facts, but try to penetrate the mystery of their origin. Seek obstinately for the laws that govern them.
Translation of a note, 'Bequest of Pavlov to the Academic Youth of his Country', written a few days before his death for a student magazine, The Generation of the Victors. As published in 'Pavlov and the Spirit of Science', Nature (4 Apr 1936), 137, 572.
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Pure mathematics proves itself a royal science both through its content and form, which contains within itself the cause of its being and its methods of proof. For in complete independence mathematics creates for itself the object of which it treats, its magnitudes and laws, its formulas and symbols.
In Die Mathematik die Fackelträgerin einer neuen Zeit (1889), 94. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 11.
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Science asks no questions about the ontological pedigree or a priori character of a theory, but is content to judge it by its performance; and it is thus that a knowledge of nature, having all the certainty which the senses are competent to inspire, has been attained—a knowledge which maintains a strict neutrality toward all philosophical systems and concerns itself not with the genesis or a priori grounds of ideas.
Originally published in North American Review (1865). 'The Philosophy of Herbert Spencer,' repr. In Philosophical Writings of Chauncey Wright (1963), p. 8.
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Secondly, the study of mathematics would show them the necessity there is in reasoning, to separate all the distinct ideas, and to see the habitudes that all those concerned in the present inquiry have to one another, and to lay by those which relate not to the proposition in hand, and wholly to leave them out of the reckoning. This is that which, in other respects besides quantity is absolutely requisite to just reasoning, though in them it is not so easily observed and so carefully practised. In those parts of knowledge where it is thought demonstration has nothing to do, men reason as it were in a lump; and if upon a summary and confused view, or upon a partial consideration, they can raise the appearance of a probability, they usually rest content; especially if it be in a dispute where every little straw is laid hold on, and everything that can but be drawn in any way to give color to the argument is advanced with ostentation. But that mind is not in a posture to find truth that does not distinctly take all the parts asunder, and, omitting what is not at all to the point, draws a conclusion from the result of all the particulars which in any way influence it.
In Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 7.
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Strictly speaking, it is really scandalous that science has not yet clarified the nature of number. It might be excusable that there is still no generally accepted definition of number, if at least there were general agreement on the matter itself. However, science has not even decided on whether number is an assemblage of things, or a figure drawn on the blackboard by the hand of man; whether it is something psychical, about whose generation psychology must give information, or whether it is a logical structure; whether it is created and can vanish, or whether it is eternal. It is not known whether the propositions of arithmetic deal with those structures composed of calcium carbonate [chalk] or with non-physical entities. There is as little agreement in this matter as there is regarding the meaning of the word “equal” and the equality sign. Therefore, science does not know the thought content which is attached to its propositions; it does not know what it deals with; it is completely in the dark regarding their proper nature. Isn’t this scandalous?
From opening paragraph of 'Vorwort', Über die Zahlen des Herrn H. Schubert (1899), iii. ('Foreword', On the Numbers of Mr. H. Schubert). Translated by Theodore J. Benac in Friedrich Waismann, Introduction to Mathematical Thinking: The Formation of Concepts in Modern Mathematics (1959, 2003), 107. Webmaster added “[chalk]”.
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That a free, or at least an unsaturated acid usually exists in the stomachs of animals, and is in some manner connected with the important process of digestion, seems to have been the general opinion of physiologists till the time of SPALLANZANI. This illustrious philosopher concluded, from his numerous experiments, that the gastric fluids, when in a perfectly natural state, are neither acid nor alkaline. Even SPALLANZANI, however, admitted that the contents of the stomach are very generally acid; and this accords not only with my own observation, but with that, I believe, of almost every individual who has made any experiments on the subject. ... The object of the present communication is to show, that the acid in question is the muriatic [hydrochloric] acid, and that the salts usually met with in the stomach, are the alkaline muriates.
'On the Nature of the Acid and Saline Matters Usually Existing in the Stomachs of Animals', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London (1824), 114, 45-6.
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The arithmetization of mathematics … which began with Weierstrass … had for its object the separation of purely mathematical concepts, such as number and correspondence and aggregate, from intuitional ideas, which mathematics had acquired from long association with geometry and mechanics. These latter, in the opinion of the formalists, are so firmly entrenched in mathematical thought that in spite of the most careful circumspection in the choice of words, the meaning concealed behind these words, may influence our reasoning. For the trouble with human words is that they possess content, whereas the purpose of mathematics is to construct pure thought. But how can we avoid the use of human language? The … symbol. Only by using a symbolic language not yet usurped by those vague ideas of space, time, continuity which have their origin in intuition and tend to obscure pure reason—only thus may we hope to build mathematics on the solid foundation of logic.
In Tobias Dantzig and Joseph Mazur (ed.), Number: The Language of Science (1930, ed. by Joseph Mazur 2007), 99.
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The axioms of geometry are—according to my way of thinking—not arbitrary, but sensible. statements, which are, in general, induced by space perception and are determined as to their precise content by expediency.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 142.
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The belief that mathematics, because it is abstract, because it is static and cold and gray, is detached from life, is a mistaken belief. Mathematics, even in its purest and most abstract estate, is not detached from life. It is just the ideal handling of the problems of life, as sculpture may idealize a human figure or as poetry or painting may idealize a figure or a scene. Mathematics is precisely the ideal handling of the problems of life, and the central ideas of the science, the great concepts about which its stately doctrines have been built up, are precisely the chief ideas with which life must always deal and which, as it tumbles and rolls about them through time and space, give it its interests and problems, and its order and rationality. That such is the case a few indications will suffice to show. The mathematical concepts of constant and variable are represented familiarly in life by the notions of fixedness and change. The concept of equation or that of an equational system, imposing restriction upon variability, is matched in life by the concept of natural and spiritual law, giving order to what were else chaotic change and providing partial freedom in lieu of none at all. What is known in mathematics under the name of limit is everywhere present in life in the guise of some ideal, some excellence high-dwelling among the rocks, an “ever flying perfect” as Emerson calls it, unto which we may approximate nearer and nearer, but which we can never quite attain, save in aspiration. The supreme concept of functionality finds its correlate in life in the all-pervasive sense of interdependence and mutual determination among the elements of the world. What is known in mathematics as transformation—that is, lawful transfer of attention, serving to match in orderly fashion the things of one system with those of another—is conceived in life as a process of transmutation by which, in the flux of the world, the content of the present has come out of the past and in its turn, in ceasing to be, gives birth to its successor, as the boy is father to the man and as things, in general, become what they are not. The mathematical concept of invariance and that of infinitude, especially the imposing doctrines that explain their meanings and bear their names—What are they but mathematicizations of that which has ever been the chief of life’s hopes and dreams, of that which has ever been the object of its deepest passion and of its dominant enterprise, I mean the finding of the worth that abides, the finding of permanence in the midst of change, and the discovery of a presence, in what has seemed to be a finite world, of being that is infinite? It is needless further to multiply examples of a correlation that is so abounding and complete as indeed to suggest a doubt whether it be juster to view mathematics as the abstract idealization of life than to regard life as the concrete realization of mathematics.
In 'The Humanization of Teaching of Mathematics', Science, New Series, 35, 645-46.
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The chemist in America has in general been content with what I have called a loafer electron theory. He has imagined the electrons sitting around on dry goods boxes at every corner [viz. the cubic atom], ready to shake hands with, or hold on to similar loafer electrons in other atoms.
'Atomism in Modern Physics', Journal of the Chemical Society (1924), 1411.
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The critical mathematician has abandoned the search for truth. He no longer flatters himself that his propositions are or can be known to him or to any other human being to be true; and he contents himself with aiming at the correct, or the consistent. The distinction is not annulled nor even blurred by the reflection that consistency contains immanently a kind of truth. He is not absolutely certain, but he believes profoundly that it is possible to find various sets of a few propositions each such that the propositions of each set are compatible, that the propositions of each such set imply other propositions, and that the latter can be deduced from the former with certainty. That is to say, he believes that there are systems of coherent or consistent propositions, and he regards it his business to discover such systems. Any such system is a branch of mathematics.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 94. Also in Science (1912), New Series, 35, 107.
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The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of bold projects and new ideas. Rather, it will belong to those who can blend passion, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the great enterprises and ideals of American society.
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The great difference between science and technology is a difference of initial attitude. The scientific man follows his method whithersoever it may take him. He seeks acquaintance with his subject­matter, and he does not at all care about what he shall find, what shall be the content of his knowledge when acquaintance-with is transformed into knowledge-about. The technologist moves in another universe; he seeks the attainment of some determinate end, which is his sole and obsessing care; and he therefore takes no heed of anything that he cannot put to use as means toward that end.
Systematic Psychology: Prolegomena (1929), 66.
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The great masters of modern analysis are Lagrange, Laplace, and Gauss, who were contemporaries. It is interesting to note the marked contrast in their styles. Lagrange is perfect both in form and matter, he is careful to explain his procedure, and though his arguments are general they are easy to follow. Laplace on the other hand explains nothing, is indifferent to style, and, if satisfied that his results are correct, is content to leave them either with no proof or with a faulty one. Gauss is as exact and elegant as Lagrange, but even more difficult to follow than Laplace, for he removes every trace of the analysis by which he reached his results, and studies to give a proof which while rigorous shall be as concise and synthetical as possible.
In History of Mathematics (3rd Ed., 1901), 468.
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The inventor is a man who looks upon the world and is not contented with things as they are. He wants to improve whatever he sees, he wants to benefit the world; he is haunted by an idea. The spirit of invention possesses him, seeking materialization.
From Speech to the Patent Congress (1891) in Washington, D.C., as quoted in Jean Lesage, 'Alexander Graham Bell Museum: Tribute to Genius', The National Geographic Magazine (Aug 1956), 110, No. 2, 232. The article notes that this statement is “prominently displayed near the foyer” of the Canadian museum opened that month to memorialize Bell, in Baddeck, Nova Scotia.
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The mass of a body is a measure of its energy content.
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The propositions of mathematics have, therefore, the same unquestionable certainty which is typical of such propositions as “All bachelors are unmarried,” but they also share the complete lack of empirical content which is associated with that certainty: The propositions of mathematics are devoid of all factual content; they convey no information whatever on any empirical subject matter.
From 'On the Nature of Mathematical Truth', collected in Carl Hempel and James H. Fetzer (ed.), The Philosophy of Carl G. Hempel: Studies in Science, Explanation, and Rationality (2001), Chap. 1, 13. Also Carl Hempel, 'On the Nature of Mathematical Truth', collected in J.R. Newman (ed.), The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 3, 1631.
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The purely formal sciences, logic and mathematics, deal with such relations which are independent of the definite content, or the substance of the objects, or at least can be. In particular, mathematics involves those relations of objects to each other that involve the concept of size, measure, number.
In Theorie der Complexen Zahlensysteme, (1867), 1. Translated by Webmaster using Google Translate from the original German, “Die rein formalen Wissenschaften, Logik und Mathematik, haben solche Relationen zu behandeln, welche unabhängig von dem bestimmten Inhalte, der Substanz der Objecte sind oder es wenigstens sein können.”
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The purely formal Sciences, logic and mathematics, deal with those relations which are, or can be, independent of the particular content or the substance of objects. To mathematics in particular fall those relations between objects which involve the concepts of magnitude, of measure and of number.
In Theorie der Complexen Zahlensysteme (1867), 1. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 4. From the original German, “Die rein formalen Wissenschaften, Logik und Mathematik, haben solche Relationen zu behandeln, welche unabhängig von dem bestimmten Inhalte, der Substanz der Objecte sind oder es wenigstens sein können. Der Mathematik fallen ins Besondere diejenigen Beziehungen der Objecte zu einander zu, die den Begriff der Grösse, des Maasses, der Zahl involviren.”
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The pursuit of mathematical science makes its votary appear singularly indifferent to the ordinary interests and cares of men. Seeking eternal truths, and finding his pleasures in the realities of form and number, he has little interest in the disputes and contentions of the passing hour. His views on social and political questions partake of the grandeur of his favorite contemplations, and, while careful to throw his mite of influence on the side of right and truth, he is content to abide the workings of those general laws by which he doubts not that the fluctuations of human history are as unerringly guided as are the perturbations of the planetary hosts.
In 'Imagination in Mathematics', North American Review, 85, 227.
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The truly scientific mind is altogether unafraid of the new, and while having no mercy for ideas which have served their turn or shown their uselessness, it will not grudge to any unfamiliar conception its moment of full and friendly attention, hoping to expand rather than to minimize what small core of usefulness it may happen to contain.
In 'Observation and Experiment and Their Use in the Medical Sciences', British Medical Journal (1930), 2, 129-34. As cited in Edward J. Huth and T.J. Murray, Medicine in Quotations: Views of Health and Disease Through the Ages (2006), 357 and 512.
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The world looks so different after learning science. For example, trees are made of air, primarily. When they are burned, they go back to air, and in the flaming heat is released the flaming heat of the sun which was bound in to convert the air into tree, and in the ash is the small remnant of the part which did not come from air, that came from the solid earth, instead. These are beautiful things, and the content of science is wonderfully full of them. They are very inspiring, and they can be used to inspire others.
From address (1966) at the 14th Annual Convention of the National Science Teachers Association, New York City, printed in 'What is science?', The Physics Teacher (1969), 7, No. 6, 320.
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Theoretical and experimental physicists are now studying nothing at all—the vacuum. But that nothingness contains all of being.
The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature (1982), 279.
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There are diverse views as to what makes a science, but three constituents will be judged essential by most, viz: (1) intellectual content, (2) organization into an understandable form, (3) reliance upon the test of experience as the ultimate standard of validity. By these tests, mathematics is not a science, since its ultimate standard of validity is an agreed-upon sort of logical consistency and provability.
In 'The Future of Data Analysis', Annals of Mathematical Statistics (1962), 33, No. 1, 5-6.
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There is one great difficulty with a good hypothesis. When it is completed and rounded, the corners smooth and the content cohesive and coherent, it is likely to become a thing in itself, a work of art. It is then like a finished sonnet or a painting completed. One hates to disturb it. Even if subsequent information should shoot a hole in it, one hates to tear it down because it once was beautiful and whole. One of our leading scientists, having reasoned a reef in the Pacific, was unable for a long time to reconcile the lack of a reef, indicated by soundings, with the reef his mind told him was there.
In John Steinbeck and Edward Flanders Ricketts Sea of Cortez: a Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research (1941), 179-80.
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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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Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind... The understanding can intuit nothing, the senses can think nothing. Only through their union can knowledge arise.
Critique of Pure Reason (1781), trans. Norman Kemp Smith (1929), 93.
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We are so presumptuous that we would wish to be known by all the world, even by people who shall come after, when we shall be no more; and we are so vain that the esteem of five or six neighbours delights and contents us.
In Pensées (1670), Section 2, No. 5. As translated in Blaise Pascal and W.F. Trotter (trans.), 'Thoughts', No. 148, collected in Charles W. Eliot (ed.), The Harvard Classics (1910), Vol. 48, 60. A similar translation is in W.H. Auden and L. Kronenberger (eds.) The Viking Book of Aphorisms (1966). From the original French, “Nous sommes si présomptueux, que nous voudrions être connus de toute la terre, et même des gens qui viendront quand nous ne serons plus; et nous sommes si vains, que l'estime de cinq ou six personnes qui nous environment, nous amuse et nous contente,” in Ernest Havet (ed.), Pensées de Pascal (1892), 122-123.
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We don’t teach our students enough of the intellectual content of experiments—their novelty and their capacity for opening new fields… . My own view is that you take these things personally. You do an experiment because your own philosophy makes you want to know the result. It’s too hard, and life is too short, to spend your time doing something because someone else has said it’s important. You must feel the thing yourself—feel that it will change your outlook and your way of life.
In Bernstein, 'Profiles: Physicists: I', The New Yorker (13 Oct 1975), 108.
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We might call it the transformational content of the body … But as I hold it better to borrow terms for important magnitudes from the ancient languages, so that they may be adopted unchanged in all modern languages, I propose to call [it] the entropy of the body, from the Greek word “trope” for “transformation” I have intentionally formed the word “entropy” to be as similar as possible to the word “energy”; for the two magnitudes to be denoted by these words are so nearly allied in their physical meanings, that a certain similarity in designation appears to be desirable.
In 'The Bulldog: A Profile of Ludwig Boltzmann', The American Scholar (1 Jan 1999), 99.
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We must remember that all our [models of flying machine] inventions are but developments of crude ideas; that a commercially successful result in a practically unexplored field cannot possibly be got without an enormous amount of unremunerative work. It is the piled-up and recorded experience of many busy brains that has produced the luxurious travelling conveniences of to-day, which in no way astonish us, and there is no good reason for supposing that we shall always be content to keep on the agitated surface of the sea and air, when it is possible to travel in a superior plane, unimpeded by frictional disturbances.
Paper to the Royal Society of New South Wales (4 Jun 1890), as quoted in Octave Chanute, Progress in Flying Machines (1894), 2226.
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We praise the eighteenth century for concerning itself chiefly with analysis. The task remaining to the nineteenth is to discover the false syntheses which prevail, and to analyse their contents anew.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 198.
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Whoever looks at the insect world, at flies, aphides, gnats and innumerable parasites, and even at the infant mammals, must have remarked the extreme content they take in suction, which constitutes the main business of their life. If we go into a library or newsroom, we see the same function on a higher plane, performed with like ardor, with equal impatience of interruption, indicating the sweetness of the act. In the highest civilization the book is still the highest delight.
In Lecture, second in a series given at Freeman Place Chapel, Boston (Mar 1859), 'Quotation and Originality', in Letters and Social Aims (1875, 1917), 177.
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… how the real proof should run. The main thing is the content, not the mathematics. With mathematics one can prove anything.
Commenting on a mistake in some work from Planck, for which “the result is correct but the proof is faulty.” As quoted in Denis Brian, Einstein—A Life (1996), 76.
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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 -
Antoine Lavoisier
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Euclid
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Andre Ampere
Winston Churchill
- 80 -
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Bible
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- 70 -
Samuel Morse
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- 60 -
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Paul Dirac
Avicenna
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- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
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- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
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- 30 -
Andreas Vesalius
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- 20 -
Carl Sagan
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- 10 -
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