Curve Quotes (32 quotes)

*La vérité est sur une courbe dont notre ésprit suit éternellement l'asymptote.*(Oct 1879)

Truth is on a curve whose asymptote our spirit follows eternally.

*Thomasina:*Every week I plot your equations dot for dot, x’s against y’s in all manner of algebraical relation, and every week they draw themselves as commonplace geometry, as if the world of forms were nothing but arcs and angles. God’s truth, Septimus, if there is an equation for a curve like a bell, there must be an equation for one like a bluebell, and if a bluebell, why not a rose? Do we believe nature is written in numbers?

*Septimus:*We do.

*Thomasina:*Then why do your shapes describe only the shapes of manufacture?

*Septimus:*I do not know.

*Thomasina:*Armed thus, God could only make a cabinet.

*Toutes les fois que dans une équation finale on trouve deux quantités inconnues, on a un lieu, l'extrémité de l'une d’elles décrivant une ligne droite ou courbe. La ligne droite est simple et unique dans son genre; les espèces des courbes sont en nombre indéfini, cercle, parabole, hyperbole, ellipse, etc.*

Whenever two unknown magnitudes appear in a final equation, we have a locus, the extremity of one of the unknown magnitudes describing a straight line or a curve. The straight line is simple and unique; the classes of curves are indefinitely many,—circle, parabola, hyperbola, ellipse, etc.

A tree nowhere offers a straight line or a regular curve, but who doubts that root, trunk, boughs, and leaves embody geometry?

Adapting from the earlier book Gravitation, I wrote, “Spacetime tells matter how to move; matter tells spacetime how to curve.” In other words, a bit of matter (or mass, or energy) moves in accordance with the dictates of the curved spacetime where it is located. … At the same time, that bit of mass or energy is itself contributing to the curvature of spacetime everywhere.

Come, see the north-wind’s masonry, Out of an unseen quarry evermore Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer Curves his white bastions with projected roof Round every windward stake, or tree, or door. Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work So fanciful, so savage, naught cares he For number or proportion.

Curves that have no tangents are the rule. … Those who hear of curves without tangents, or of functions without derivatives, often think at first that Nature presents no such complications. … The contrary however is true. … Consider, for instance, one of the white flakes that are obtained by salting a solution of soap. At a distance its contour may appear sharply defined, but as we draw nearer its sharpness disappears. The eye can no longer draw a tangent at any point. … The use of a magnifying glass or microscope leaves us just as uncertain, for fresh irregularities appear every time we increase the magnification. … An essential characteristic of our flake … is that we suspect … that any scale involves details that absolutely prohibit the fixing of a tangent.

Following the example of Archimedes who wished his tomb decorated with his most beautiful discovery in geometry and ordered it inscribed with a cylinder circumscribed by a sphere, James Bernoulli requested that his tomb be inscribed with his logarithmic spiral together with the words, “

*Eadem mutata resurgo*,” a happy allusion to the hope of the Christians, which is in a way symbolized by the properties of that curve.
For the first time in my life I saw the horizon as a curved line. It was accentuated by a thin seam of dark blue light - our atmosphere. Obviously this was not the ocean of air I had been told it was so many times in my life. I was terrified by its fragile appearance.

He seemed to approach the grave as an hyperbolic curve approaches a line, less directly as he got nearer, till it was doubtful if he would ever reach it at all.

I asked Fermi whether he was not impressed by the agreement between our calculated numbers and his measured numbers. He replied, “How many arbitrary parameters did you use for your calculations?" I thought for a moment about our cut-off procedures and said, “Four." He said, “I remember my friend Johnny von Neumann used to say, with four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk.” With that, the conversation was over.

I chatter over stony ways,

In little sharps and trebles,

I bubble into eddying bays,

I babble on the pebbles.…

And out again I curve and flow

To join the brimming river;

For men may come and men may go,

But I go on forever.

In little sharps and trebles,

I bubble into eddying bays,

I babble on the pebbles.…

And out again I curve and flow

To join the brimming river;

For men may come and men may go,

But I go on forever.

In 1684 Dr Halley came to visit him at Cambridge, after they had been some time together, the Dr asked him what he thought the Curve would be that would be described by the Planets supposing the force of attraction towards the Sun to be reciprocal to the square of their distance from it. Sr Isaac replied immediately that it would be an Ellipsis, the Doctor struck with joy & amazement asked him how he knew it, why saith he I have calculated it, whereupon Dr Halley asked him for his calculation without any farther delay. Sr Isaac looked among his papers but could not find it, but he promised him to renew it, & then to send it him.

*[Recollecting Newton's account of the meeting after which Halley prompted Newton to write*The Principia*. When asking Newton this question, Halley was aware, without revealing it to Newton that Robert Hooke had made this hypothesis of plantary motion a decade earlier.]*
Is evolution a theory, a system or a hypothesis? It is much more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must bow and which they must satisfy henceforth if they are to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow. ... The consciousness of each of us is evolution looking at itself and reflecting upon itself....Man is not the center of the universe as once we thought in our simplicity, but something much more wonderful—the arrow pointing the way to the final unification of the world in terms of life. Man alone constitutes the last-born, the freshest, the most complicated, the most subtle of all the successive layers of life. ... The universe has always been in motion and at this moment continues to be in motion. But will it still be in motion tomorrow? ... What makes the world in which we live specifically modern is our discovery in it and around it of evolution. ... Thus in all probability, between our modern earth and the ultimate earth, there stretches an immense period, characterized not by a slowing-down but a speeding up and by the definitive florescence of the forces of evolution along the line of the human shoot.

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.
It is not only a decided preference for synthesis and a complete denial of general methods which characterizes the ancient mathematics as against our newer Science [modern mathematics]: besides this extemal formal difference there is another real, more deeply seated, contrast, which arises from the different attitudes which the two assumed relative to the use of the concept of variability. For while the ancients, on account of considerations which had been transmitted to them from the Philosophie school of the Eleatics, never employed the concept of motion, the spatial expression for variability, in their rigorous system, and made incidental use of it only in the treatment of phonoromically generated curves, modern geometry dates from the instant that Descartes left the purely algebraic treatment of equations and proceeded to investigate the variations which an algebraic expression undergoes when one of its variables assumes a continuous succession of values.

My first view - a panorama of brilliant deep blue ocean, shot with shades of green and gray and white - was of atolls and clouds. Close to the window I could see that this Pacific scene in motion was rimmed by the great curved limb of the Earth. It had a thin halo of blue held close, and beyond, black space. I held my breath, but something was missing - I felt strangely unfulfilled. Here was a tremendous visual spectacle, but viewed in silence. There was no grand musical accompaniment; no triumphant, inspired sonata or symphony. Each one of us must write the music of this sphere for ourselves.

Of all the conceptions of the human mind from unicorns to gargoyles to the hydrogen bomb perhaps the most fantastic is the black hole: a hole in space with a definite edge over which anything can fall and nothing can escape; a hole with a gravitational field so strong that even light is caught and held in its grip; a hole that curves space and warps time.

Painting the desert, sun-setting the tone

Starving backstage, morning-stars are jaded

The moonshine murmur still shivers alone

Curved slice of sliver, shear breath shadows stone

Suspending twilight shiny and shaded

Painting the desert, sun-setting the tone

Carving solace into silver in June

On horizons’ glow from forgotten gold

The moonshine’s’ shilling delivers alone

Gleaming duels of knights, pierce deathly silence

Steel tines of starlight, clashing swords they hold

Painting the desert, sun-setting the tone

Dimples aware, sparkle sand on the dune

Winking at comets, after tails are told

The moon-sand whispers, sift rivers alone

Sharpness they hone, filing skills onto stone

Starlight dazzles, its own space created

Painting the desert, sun-setting the tone

From owls’ talon, moonlight shimmers alone

Starving backstage, morning-stars are jaded

The moonshine murmur still shivers alone

Curved slice of sliver, shear breath shadows stone

Suspending twilight shiny and shaded

Painting the desert, sun-setting the tone

Carving solace into silver in June

On horizons’ glow from forgotten gold

The moonshine’s’ shilling delivers alone

Gleaming duels of knights, pierce deathly silence

Steel tines of starlight, clashing swords they hold

Painting the desert, sun-setting the tone

Dimples aware, sparkle sand on the dune

Winking at comets, after tails are told

The moon-sand whispers, sift rivers alone

Sharpness they hone, filing skills onto stone

Starlight dazzles, its own space created

Painting the desert, sun-setting the tone

From owls’ talon, moonlight shimmers alone

Quietly, like a night bird, floating, soaring, wingless.

We glide from shore to shore, curving and falling

but not quite touching;

Earth: a distant memory seen in an instant of repose,

crescent shaped, ethereal, beautiful,

I wonder which part is home, but I know it doesn’t matter . . .

the bond is there in my mind and memory;

Earth: a small, bubbly balloon hanging delicately

in the nothingness of space.

We glide from shore to shore, curving and falling

but not quite touching;

Earth: a distant memory seen in an instant of repose,

crescent shaped, ethereal, beautiful,

I wonder which part is home, but I know it doesn’t matter . . .

the bond is there in my mind and memory;

Earth: a small, bubbly balloon hanging delicately

in the nothingness of space.

Spacetime tells matter how to move; matter tells spacetime how to curve.

Standing beside each other, we feasted our eyes. Above us the cerulean sky deepened to an inky black as the remnants of the atmosphere gave way to the depths of space. The mighty Himalaya were now a sparkling relief map spread out before us and garnished with a gleaming lattice work of swirling glaciers. Even Cho Oyu, Lhotse and Makalu, all 8,000-meter giants, were dwarfed. To the east and west, Kanchenjunga and Shishapangma, two more great sentinels of the Himalaya, stood crystal clear over 100 kilometers away. To the north were the burnished plains of Tibet, and to the south the majestic peaks and lush foothills of Nepal. We stood on the crown jewel of the earth, the curved horizon spinning endlessly around us.

— Jo Gambi

Suppose then I want to give myself a little training in the art of reasoning; suppose I want to get out of the region of conjecture and probability, free myself from the difficult task of weighing evidence, and putting instances together to arrive at general propositions, and simply desire to know how to deal with my general propositions when I get them, and how to deduce right inferences from them; it is clear that I shall obtain this sort of discipline best in those departments of thought in which the first principles are unquestionably true. For in all our thinking, if we come to erroneous conclusions, we come to them either by accepting false premises to start with—in which case our reasoning, however good, will not save us from error; or by reasoning badly, in which case the data we start from may be perfectly sound, and yet our conclusions may be false. But in the mathematical or pure sciences,—geometry, arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, the calculus of variations or of curves,— we know at least that there is not, and cannot be, error in our first principles, and we may therefore fasten our whole attention upon the processes. As mere exercises in logic, therefore, these sciences, based as they all are on primary truths relating to space and number, have always been supposed to furnish the most exact discipline. When Plato wrote over the portal of his school. “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here,” he did not mean that questions relating to lines and surfaces would be discussed by his disciples. On the contrary, the topics to which he directed their attention were some of the deepest problems,— social, political, moral,—on which the mind could exercise itself. Plato and his followers tried to think out together conclusions respecting the being, the duty, and the destiny of man, and the relation in which he stood to the gods and to the unseen world. What had geometry to do with these things? Simply this: That a man whose mind has not undergone a rigorous training in systematic thinking, and in the art of drawing legitimate inferences from premises, was unfitted to enter on the discussion of these high topics; and that the sort of logical discipline which he needed was most likely to be obtained from geometry—the only mathematical science which in Plato’s time had been formulated and reduced to a system. And we in this country [England] have long acted on the same principle. Our future lawyers, clergy, and statesmen are expected at the University to learn a good deal about curves, and angles, and numbers and proportions; not because these subjects have the smallest relation to the needs of their lives, but because in the very act of learning them they are likely to acquire that habit of steadfast and accurate thinking, which is indispensable to success in all the pursuits of life.

The discovery of an interaction among the four hemes made it obvious that they must be touching, but in science what is obvious is not necessarily true. When the structure of hemoglobin was finally solved, the hemes were found to lie in isolated pockets on the surface of the subunits. Without contact between them how could one of them sense whether the others had combined with oxygen? And how could as heterogeneous a collection of chemical agents as protons, chloride ions, carbon dioxide, and diphosphoglycerate influence the oxygen equilibrium curve in a similar way? It did not seem plausible that any of them could bind directly to the hemes or that all of them could bind at any other common site, although there again it turned out we were wrong. To add to the mystery, none of these agents affected the oxygen equilibrium of myoglobin or of isolated subunits of hemoglobin. We now know that all the cooperative effects disappear if the hemoglobin molecule is merely split in half, but this vital clue was missed. Like Agatha Christie, Nature kept it to the last to make the story more exciting. There are two ways out of an impasse in science: to experiment or to think. By temperament, perhaps, I experimented, whereas Jacques Monod thought.

The fundamental idea of these pylons, or great archways, is based on a method of construction peculiar to me, of which the principle consists in giving to the edges of the pyramid a curve of such a nature that this pyramid shall be capable of resisting the force of the wind without necessitating the junction of the edges by diagonals as is usually done.

*[Writing of his tower after its completion in 1889.]*
The Greeks in the first vigour of their pursuit of mathematical truth, at the time of Plato and soon after, had by no means confined themselves to those propositions which had a visible bearing on the phenomena of nature; but had followed out many beautiful trains of research concerning various kinds of figures, for the sake of their beauty alone; as for instance in their doctrine of Conic Sections, of which curves they had discovered all the principal properties. But it is curious to remark, that these investigations, thus pursued at first as mere matters of curiosity and intellectual gratification, were destined, two thousand years later, to play a very important part in establishing that system of celestial motions which succeeded the Platonic scheme of cycles and epicycles. If the properties of conic sections had not been demonstrated by the Greeks and thus rendered familiar to the mathematicians of succeeding ages, Kepler would probably not have been able to discover those laws respecting the orbits and motions of planets which were the occasion of the greatest revolution that ever happened in the history of science.

The photons which constitute a ray of light behave like intelligent human beings: out of all possible curves they always select the one which will take them most quickly to their goal.

The scientist knows very well that he is approaching ultimate truth only in an asymptotic curve and is barred from ever reaching it; but at the same time he is proudly aware of being indeed able to determine whether a statement is a nearer or a less near approach to the truth.

These machines [used in the defense of the Syracusans against the Romans under Marcellus] he [Archimedes] had designed and contrived, not as matters of any importance, but as mere amusements in geometry; in compliance with king Hiero’s desire and request, some time before, that he should reduce to practice some part of his admirable speculation in science, and by accommodating the theoretic truth to sensation and ordinary use, bring it more within the appreciation of people in general. Eudoxus and Archytas had been the first originators of this far-famed and highly-prized art of mechanics, which they employed as an elegant illustration of geometrical truths, and as means of sustaining experimentally, to the satisfaction of the senses, conclusions too intricate for proof by words and diagrams. As, for example, to solve the problem, so often required in constructing geometrical figures, given the two extremes, to find the two mean lines of a proportion, both these mathematicians had recourse to the aid of instruments, adapting to their purpose certain curves and sections of lines. But what with Plato’s indignation at it, and his invectives against it as the mere corruption and annihilation of the one good of geometry,—which was thus shamefully turning its back upon the unembodied objects of pure intelligence to recur to sensation, and to ask help (not to be obtained without base supervisions and depravation) from matter; so it was that mechanics came to be separated from geometry, and, repudiated and neglected by philosophers, took its place as a military art.

— Plutarch

They were in orbit around the planet now, and its giant curving bulk loomed so huge that he could see nothing else, nothing but the bands and swirls of clouds that raced fiercely across Jupiter’s face. The clouds shifted and flowed before his eyes, spun into eddies the size of Asia, moved and throbbed and pulsed like living creatures. Lightning flashed down there, sudden explosions of light that flickered back and forth across the clouds, like signalling lamps.

— Ben Bova

What distinguishes the straight line and circle more than anything else, and properly separates them for the purpose of elementary geometry? Their self-similarity. Every inch of a straight line coincides with every other inch, and of a circle with every other of the same circle. Where, then, did Euclid fail? In not introducing the third curve, which has the same property—the screw. The right line, the circle, the

*screw*—the representations of translation, rotation, and the two combined—ought to have been the instruments of geometry. With a screw we should never have heard of the impossibility of trisecting an angle, squaring the circle, etc.
[On mediocrity] What we have today is a retreat into low-level goodness. Men are all working hard building barbecues, being devoted to their wives and spending time with their children. Many of us feel, “We never had it so good!” After three wars and a depression, we’re impressed by the rising curve. All we want is it not to blow up.