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Counting Quotes (26 quotes)

A superficial knowledge of mathematics may lead to the belief that this subject can be taught incidentally, and that exercises akin to counting the petals of flowers or the legs of a grasshopper are mathematical. Such work ignores the fundamental idea out of which quantitative reasoning grows—the equality of magnitudes. It leaves the pupil unaware of that relativity which is the essence of mathematical science. Numerical statements are frequently required in the study of natural history, but to repeat these as a drill upon numbers will scarcely lend charm to these studies, and certainly will not result in mathematical knowledge.
In Primary Arithmetic: First Year, for the Use of Teachers (1897), 26-27.
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A superficial knowledge of mathematics may lead to the belief that this subject can be taught incidentally, and that exercises akin to counting the petals of flowers or the legs of a grasshopper are mathematical. Such work ignores the fundamental idea out of which quantitative reasoning grows—the equality of magnitudes. It leaves the pupil unaware of that relativity which is the essence of mathematical science. Numerical statements are frequently required in the study of natural history, but to repeat these as a drill upon numbers will scarcely lend charm to these studies, and certainly will not result in mathematical knowledge.
In Primary Arithmetic: First Year, for the Use of Teachers (1897), 26-27.
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Before counting the stars have a look underfoot.
Anonymous
Attributed an “Oriental saying”, in a translation from the original Russian (1960), by David Sobolev of D.N. Trifonov and L.G. Vlasov, 107 Stories About Chemistry (1970), 215. New edition published as Silhouettes of Chemistry (1987), 196. Webmaster has so far found only this single source.
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Counting stars by candlelight all are dim but one is bright; the spiral light of Venus rising first and shining best, from the northwest corner of a brand-new crescent moon crickets and cicadas sing a rare and different tune.
Terrapin Station
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Each nerve cell receives connections from other nerve cells at six sites called synapses. But here is an astonishing fact—there are about one million billion connections in the cortical sheet. If you were to count them, one connection (or synapse) per second, you would finish counting some thirty-two million years after you began. Another way of getting a feeling for the numbers of connections in this extraordinary structure is to consider that a large match-head’s worth of your brain contains about a billion connections. Notice that I only mention counting connections. If we consider how connections might be variously combined, the number would be hyperastronomical—on the order of ten followed by millions of zeros. (There are about ten followed by eighty zero’s worth of positively charged particles in the whole known universe!)
Bright and Brilliant Fire, On the Matters of the Mind (1992), 17.
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I am now convinced that we have recently become possessed of experimental evidence of the discrete or grained nature of matter, which the atomic hypothesis sought in vain for hundreds and thousands of years. The isolation and counting of gaseous ions, on the one hand, which have crowned with success the long and brilliant researches of J.J. Thomson, and, on the other, agreement of the Brownian movement with the requirements of the kinetic hypothesis, established by many investigators and most conclusively by J. Perrin, justify the most cautious scientist in now speaking of the experimental proof of the atomic nature of matter, The atomic hypothesis is thus raised to the position of a scientifically well-founded theory, and can claim a place in a text-book intended for use as an introduction to the present state of our knowledge of General Chemistry.
In Grundriss der allgemeinen Chemie (4th ed., 1909), Preface, as cited by Erwin N. Hiebert and Hans-Gunther Korber in article on Ostwald in Charles Coulston Gillespie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography Supplement 1, Vol 15-16, 464.
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I believe … that we can still have a genre of scientific books suitable for and accessible alike to professionals and interested laypeople. The concepts of science, in all their richness and ambiguity, can be presented without any compromise, without any simplification counting as distortion, in language accessible to all intelligent people … I hope that this book can be read with profit both in seminars for graduate students and–if the movie stinks and you forgot your sleeping pills–on the businessman’s special to Tokyo.
In Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (1990), Preface, 16.
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If someone separated the art of counting and measuring and weighing from all the other arts, what was left of each (of the others) would be, so to speak, insignificant.
Plato
Philebus 55e. Trans. R. W. Sharples.
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In place of infinity we usually put some really big number, like 15.
Perhaps referring to the programmer’s hexadecimal counting scheme which has 16 digits (0-9 followed by digits A-F), useful in binary context as a power of 2.
Anonymous
Attributed to a Computer Science Professor on various web pages. Webmaster has found no print source for this wording and comments, but its originality makes it worthy of inclusion here. Webmaster comments: perhaps one of those infinite number of monkeys typed it! Please make contact if you know a primary print source.
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It has been asserted … that the power of observation is not developed by mathematical studies; while the truth is, that; from the most elementary mathematical notion that arises in the mind of a child to the farthest verge to which mathematical investigation has been pushed and applied, this power is in constant exercise. By observation, as here used, can only be meant the fixing of the attention upon objects (physical or mental) so as to note distinctive peculiarities—to recognize resemblances, differences, and other relations. Now the first mental act of the child recognizing the distinction between one and more than one, between one and two, two and three, etc., is exactly this. So, again, the first geometrical notions are as pure an exercise of this power as can be given. To know a straight line, to distinguish it from a curve; to recognize a triangle and distinguish the several forms—what are these, and all perception of form, but a series of observations? Nor is it alone in securing these fundamental conceptions of number and form that observation plays so important a part. The very genius of the common geometry as a method of reasoning—a system of investigation—is, that it is but a series of observations. The figure being before the eye in actual representation, or before the mind in conception, is so closely scrutinized, that all its distinctive features are perceived; auxiliary lines are drawn (the imagination leading in this), and a new series of inspections is made; and thus, by means of direct, simple observations, the investigation proceeds. So characteristic of common geometry is this method of investigation, that Comte, perhaps the ablest of all writers upon the philosophy of mathematics, is disposed to class geometry, as to its method, with the natural sciences, being based upon observation. Moreover, when we consider applied mathematics, we need only to notice that the exercise of this faculty is so essential, that the basis of all such reasoning, the very material with which we build, have received the name observations. Thus we might proceed to consider the whole range of the human faculties, and find for the most of them ample scope for exercise in mathematical studies. Certainly, the memory will not be found to be neglected. The very first steps in number—counting, the multiplication table, etc., make heavy demands on this power; while the higher branches require the memorizing of formulas which are simply appalling to the uninitiated. So the imagination, the creative faculty of the mind, has constant exercise in all original mathematical investigations, from the solution of the simplest problems to the discovery of the most recondite principle; for it is not by sure, consecutive steps, as many suppose, that we advance from the known to the unknown. The imagination, not the logical faculty, leads in this advance. In fact, practical observation is often in advance of logical exposition. Thus, in the discovery of truth, the imagination habitually presents hypotheses, and observation supplies facts, which it may require ages for the tardy reason to connect logically with the known. Of this truth, mathematics, as well as all other sciences, affords abundant illustrations. So remarkably true is this, that today it is seriously questioned by the majority of thinkers, whether the sublimest branch of mathematics,—the infinitesimal calculus—has anything more than an empirical foundation, mathematicians themselves not being agreed as to its logical basis. That the imagination, and not the logical faculty, leads in all original investigation, no one who has ever succeeded in producing an original demonstration of one of the simpler propositions of geometry, can have any doubt. Nor are induction, analogy, the scrutinization of premises or the search for them, or the balancing of probabilities, spheres of mental operations foreign to mathematics. No one, indeed, can claim preeminence for mathematical studies in all these departments of intellectual culture, but it may, perhaps, be claimed that scarcely any department of science affords discipline to so great a number of faculties, and that none presents so complete a gradation in the exercise of these faculties, from the first principles of the science to the farthest extent of its applications, as mathematics.
In 'Mathematics', in Henry Kiddle and Alexander J. Schem, The Cyclopedia of Education, (1877.) As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 27-29.
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Let him who so wishes take pleasure in boring us with all the wonders of nature: let one spend his life observing insects, another counting the tiny bones in the hearing membrane of certain fish, even in measuring, if you will, how far a flea can jump, not to mention so many other wretched objects of study; for myself, who am curious only about philosophy, who am sorry only not to be able to extend its horizons, active nature will always be my sole point of view; I love to see it from afar, in its breadth and its entirety, and not in specifics or in little details, which, although to some extent necessary in all the sciences, are generally the mark of little genius among those who devote themselves to them.
'L'Homme Plante', in Oeuvres Philosophiques de La Mettrie (1796), Vol. 2, 70-1. Jacques Roger, The Life Sciences in Eighteenth-Century French Thought, edited by Keith R. Benson and trans. Robert Ellrich (1997), 377.
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Mathematicians pretend to count by means of a system supposed to satisfy the so-called Peano axioms. In fact, the piano has only 88 keys; hence, anyone counting with these axioms is soon played out.
In Mathematics Made Difficult (1971). As quoted in Michael Stueben and Diane Sandford, Twenty Years Before the Blackboard (1998), 131.
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Mathematics is not arithmetic. Though mathematics may have arisen from the practices of counting and measuring it really deals with logical reasoning in which theorems—general and specific statements—can be deduced from the starting assumptions. It is, perhaps, the purest and most rigorous of intellectual activities, and is often thought of as queen of the sciences.
Essay,'Private Games', in Lewis Wolpert, Alison Richards (eds.), A Passion for Science (1988), 53.
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Music is the pleasure the human soul experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting.
As quoted, without citation, in William L. Schaaf, 'The Highest Rung', National Mathematics Magazine (May 1942), 16, 8, 395.
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One can argue that mathematics is a human activity deeply rooted in reality, and permanently returning to reality. From counting on one’s fingers to moon-landing to Google, we are doing mathematics in order to understand, create, and handle things, … Mathematicians are thus more or less responsible actors of human history, like Archimedes helping to defend Syracuse (and to save a local tyrant), Alan Turing cryptanalyzing Marshal Rommel’s intercepted military dispatches to Berlin, or John von Neumann suggesting high altitude detonation as an efficient tactic of bombing.
In 'Mathematical Knowledge: Internal, Social and Cultural Aspects', Mathematics As Metaphor: Selected Essays (2007), 3.
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Science, being human enquiry, can hear no answer except an answer couched somehow in human tones. Primitive man stood in the mountains and shouted against a cliff; the echo brought back his own voice, and he believed in a disembodied spirit. The scientist of today stands counting out loud in the face of the unknown. Numbers come back to him—and he believes in the Great Mathematician.
Concluding paragraph of chapter, 'Physics, Astronomy, and Mathematics: Or Beyond Common-Sense', contributed to Naomi Mitchison (ed.), An Outline For Boys And Girls And Their Parents (1932), 357.
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Science—we have loved her well, and followed her diligently, what will she do? I fear she is too much in the pay of the counting-houses, and the drill-serjent, that she is too busy, and will for the present do nothing. Yet there are matters which I should have thought easy for her; say, for example, teaching Manchester how to consume its town smoke, or Leeds how to get rid of its superfluous black dye without turning it into the river, which would be as much worth her attention as the production of the heaviest black silks, or the biggest of useless guns.
In The Lesser Arts (1878).
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Standard mathematics has recently been rendered obsolete by the discovery that for years we have been writing the numeral five backward. This has led to reevaluation of counting as a method of getting from one to ten. Students are taught advanced concepts of Boolean algebra, and formerly unsolvable equations are dealt with by threats of reprisals.
Getting Even (1978), 44.
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The perfect reckoner needs no counting-slips.
Lao Tzu
In Lao Tsu and Arthur Waley (trans.), Tao Te Ching (1996), chap. 27, 28. Also seen translated as: “A good calculator does not need artificial aids,” Translated by James Legge as “The skilful reckoner uses no tallies.” Note: Before the abacus, slips of bamboo were thrown in small bowls for counting.
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The rudest numerical scales, such as that by which the mineralogists distinguish different degrees of hardness, are found useful. The mere counting of pistils and stamens sufficed to bring botany out of total chaos into some kind of form. It is not, however, so much from counting as from measuring, not so much from the conception of number as from that of continuous quantity, that the advantage of mathematical treatment comes. Number, after all, only serves to pin us down to a precision in our thoughts which, however beneficial, can seldom lead to lofty conceptions, and frequently descend to pettiness.
On the Doctrine of Chances, with Later Reflections (1878), 61-2.
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There have been many authorities who have asserted that the basis of science lies in counting or measuring, i.e. in the use of mathematics. Neither counting nor measuring can however be the most fundamental processes in our study of the material universe—before you can do either to any purpose you must first select what you propose to count or measure, which presupposes a classification.
Classification and Biology (1970), 2.
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There is no counting the unsolved problems of Natural History.
In Riddles of Science (1932), 102.
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Tolstoi explains somewhere in his writings why, in his opinion, “Science for Science's sake” is an absurd conception. We cannot know all the facts since they are infinite in number. We must make a selection ... guided by utility ... Have we not some better occupation than counting the number of lady-birds in existence on this planet?
In Science and Method (1914, 2003), 15
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When young Galileo, then a student at Pisa, noticed one day during divine service a chandelier swinging backwards and forwards, and convinced himself, by counting his pulse, that the duration of the oscillations was independent of the arc through which it moved, who could know that this discovery would eventually put it in our power, by means of the pendulum, to attain an accuracy in the measurement of time till then deemed impossible, and would enable the storm-tossed seaman in the most distant oceans to determine in what degree of longitude he was sailing?
Hermann von Helmholtz, Edmund Atkinson (trans.), Popular Lectures on Scientific Subjects: First Series (1883), 29.
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Where a body is in motion, there exists space and time, the simplest sentient creature in this world would thus be a measure of them. Our hearing, and perhaps our seeing too, consists of a counting of oscillations.
Aphorism 54 in Notebook D (1773-1775), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 52.
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[Boswell]: Sir Alexander Dick tells me, that he remembers having a thousand people in a year to dine at his house: that is, reckoning each person as one, each time that he dined there.
[Johnson]: That, Sir, is about three a day.
[Boswell]: How your statement lessens the idea.
[Johnson]: That, Sir, is the good of counting. It brings every thing to a certainty, which before floated in the mind indefinitely.
Entry for Fri 18 Apr 1783. In George Birkbeck-Hill (ed.), Boswell's Life of Johnson (1934-50), Vol. 4, 204.
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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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