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Who said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
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General Quotes (156 quotes)

Air Force Chief of Staff: Doctor, what do you think of our new creation, the … Corporation?
von Kármán: Why, General, I think that corporation has already had an effect on the whole industry.
Air Force Chief of Staff: I’m delighted. What effect is that?
von Kármán: Why, they’ve upset the salary schedule of the whole industry.
As quoted by William R. Sears in 'Some Recollections of Theodore von Kármán', Address to the Symposium in Memory of Theodore von Kármán, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, National Meeting (13-14 May 1964), Washington, D.C. Printed in Journal of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (Mar 1965), 13>, No. 1, 181. These are likely not verbatim words of Karman, but as recollected by Sears, giving an example of von Kármán’s willingness to speak truth to power.
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La chaleur pénètre, comme la gravité, toutes les substances de l’univers, ses rayons occupent toutes les parties de l’espace. Le but de notre ouvrage est d’exposer les lois mathématiques que suit cet élément. Cette théorie formera désormais une des branches les plus importantes de la physique générale.
Heat, like gravity, penetrates every substance of the universe, its rays occupy all parts of space. The object of our work is to set forth the mathematical laws which this element obeys. The theory of heat will hereafter form one of the most important branches of general physics.
From 'Discours Préliminaire' to Théorie Analytique de la Chaleur (1822), i, translated by Alexander Freeman in The Analytical Theory of Heat (1878), 1.
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[About Pierre de Fermat] It cannot be denied that he has had many exceptional ideas, and that he is a highly intelligent man. For my part, however, I have always been taught to take a broad overview of things, in order to be able to deduce from them general rules, which might be applicable elsewhere.
Quoted, without source, in The Grolier Library of Science Biographies (1996), Vol. 3, 191.
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A general course in mathematics should be required of all officers for its practical value, but no less for its educational value in training the mind to logical forms of thought, in developing the sense of absolute truthfulness, together with a confidence in the accomplishment of definite results by definite means.
In 'Mathematics at West Point and Annapolis', United States Bureau of Education, Bulletin 1912, No. 2, 11.
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A fool who, after plain warning, persists in dosing himself with dangerous drugs should be free to do so, for his death is a benefit to the race in general.
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A habit of basing convictions upon evidence, and of giving to them only that degree or certainty which the evidence warrants, would, if it became general, cure most of the ills from which the world suffers.
In Bertrand Russell and Paul Edwards (ed.), 'Preface', Why I Am Not a Christian: And Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects (1957), vi.
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A Law of Nature, (Lex Naturalis) is a Precept, or general Rule, found out by Reason, by which a man is forbidden to do, that, which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same; and to omit, that, by which he thinketh it may be best preserved
Leviathan, ch. 14 (1651).
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A science in its infancy is the least satisfactory, and, at the same time, the most profitable theme for a general description.
In Modern Astrophysics (1924), Preface, v.
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As regards religion, on the other hand, one is generally agreed that it deals with goals and evaluations and, in general, with the emotional foundation of human thinking and acting, as far as these are not predetermined by the inalterable hereditary disposition of the human species. Religion is concerned with man’s attitude toward nature at large, with the establishing of ideals for the individual and communal life, and with mutual human relationship. These ideals religion attempts to attain by exerting an educational influence on tradition and through the development and promulgation of certain easily accessible thoughts and narratives (epics and myths) which are apt to influence evaluation and action along the lines of the accepted ideals.
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At the age of three I began to look around my grandfather’s library. My first knowledge of astronomy came from reading and looking at pictures at that time. By the time I was six I remember him buying books for me. … I think I was eight, he bought me a three-inch telescope on a brass mounting. … So, as far back as I can remember, I had an early interest in science in general, astronomy in particular.
Oral History Transcript of interview with Dr. Jesse Greenstein by Paul Wright (31 Jul 1974), on website of American Institute of Physics.
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Before any great scientific principle receives distinct enunciation by individuals, it dwells more or less clearly in the general scientific mind. The intellectual plateau is already high, and our discoverers are those who, like peaks above the plateau, rise a little above the general level of thought at the time.
In 'Faraday as a Discoverer', The American Journal of Science (Jul 1868), 2nd series, 46, No. 136, 194.
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Biographical history, as taught in our public schools, is still largely a history of boneheads: ridiculous kings and queens, paranoid political leaders, compulsive voyagers, ignorant generals—the flotsam and jetsam of historical currents. The men who radically altered history, the great creative scientists and mathematicians, are seldom mentioned if at all.
Opening paragraph of book review, 'Adventures Of a Mathematician: The Man Who Invented the H-Bomb', New York Times (9 May 1976), 201.
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Both social and biosocial factors are necessary to interpret crosscultural studies, with the general proviso that one’s research interest determines which elements, in what combinations, are significant for the provision of understanding.
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But it is precisely mathematics, and the pure science generally, from which the general educated public and independent students have been debarred, and into which they have only rarely attained more than a very meagre insight. The reason of this is twofold. In the first place, the ascendant and consecutive character of mathematical knowledge renders its results absolutely insusceptible of presentation to persons who are unacquainted with what has gone before, and so necessitates on the part of its devotees a thorough and patient exploration of the field from the very beginning, as distinguished from those sciences which may, so to speak, be begun at the end, and which are consequently cultivated with the greatest zeal. The second reason is that, partly through the exigencies of academic instruction, but mainly through the martinet traditions of antiquity and the influence of mediaeval logic-mongers, the great bulk of the elementary text-books of mathematics have unconsciously assumed a very repellant form,—something similar to what is termed in the theory of protective mimicry in biology “the terrifying form.” And it is mainly to this formidableness and touch-me-not character of exterior, concealing withal a harmless body, that the undue neglect of typical mathematical studies is to be attributed.
In Editor’s Preface to Augustus De Morgan and Thomas J. McCormack (ed.), Elementary Illustrations of the Differential and Integral Calculus (1899), v.
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But nature is remarkably obstinate against purely logical operations; she likes not schoolmasters nor scholastic procedures. As though she took a particular satisfaction in mocking at our intelligence, she very often shows us the phantom of an apparently general law, represented by scattered fragments, which are entirely inconsistent. Logic asks for the union of these fragments; the resolute dogmatist, therefore, does not hesitate to go straight on to supply, by logical conclusions, the fragments he wants, and to flatter himself that he has mastered nature by his victorious intelligence.
'On the Principles of Animal Morphology', Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (2 Apr 1888), 15, 289. Original as Letter to Mr John Murray, communicated to the Society by Professor Sir William Turner. Page given as in collected volume published 1889.
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But with regard to the material world, we can at least go so far as this;—we can perceive that events are brought about, not by insulated interpositions of Divine power, exerted in each particular ease, but by the establishment of general laws.
In Astronomy and General Physics Considered with Reference to Natural Theology (1833), 356. Charles Darwin placed this quote on the title page of his On the Origin of Species, identified as from Whewell's 'Bridgewater Treatise'.
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Chemistry is the study of the effects of heat and mixture, with a view of discovering their general and subordinate laws, and of improving the useful arts.
This is an editor’s shorter restatement of the definition given by Black in the first of a series of lectures on chemistry, collected in John Robison (ed.), Lectures on the Elements of Chemistry: Delivered in the University of Edinburgh (1807), Vol. 1, 11, footnote. For the definitions as given by Black, see elsewhere on this web page.
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Common to all these types is the anthropomorphic character of their conception of God. In general, only individuals of exceptional endowments, and exceptionally high-minded communities, rise to any considerable extent above this level. But there is a third stage of religious experience which belongs to all of them, even though it is rarely found in a pure form: I shall call it cosmic religious feeling. It is very difficult to elucidate this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, especially as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it.
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Concentrate only on the achievements, and ignore the mistakes. When judging a mathematician you should only integrate f+ (the positive part of his function) and ignore the negative part. Perhaps this should apply more generally to all evaluations of your fellow men.
On his philosophy of writing letters of recommendation. As given in essay, Ronald Coifman and Robert S. Strichartz, 'The School of Antoni Zygmund', collected in Peter Duren (ed.), A Century of Mathematics in America (1989), 348. The authors acknowledge students of Zygmund provided personal recollections to them for the essay in general. Webmaster speculates the quote is from a student recollection, and not necessarily verbatim.
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Creation science has not entered the curriculum for a reason so simple and so basic that we often forget to mention it: because it is false, and because good teachers understand why it is false. What could be more destructive of that most fragile yet most precious commodity in our entire intellectual heritage—good teaching—than a bill forcing our honorable teachers to sully their sacred trust by granting equal treatment to a doctrine not only known to be false, but calculated to undermine any general understanding of science as an enterprise?.
In 'The Verdict on Creationism' The Sketical Inquirer (Winter 1987/88), 12, 186.
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Definition of Mathematics.—It has now become apparent that the traditional field of mathematics in the province of discrete and continuous number can only be separated from the general abstract theory of classes and relations by a wavering and indeterminate line. Of course a discussion as to the mere application of a word easily degenerates into the most fruitless logomachy. It is open to any one to use any word in any sense. But on the assumption that “mathematics” is to denote a science well marked out by its subject matter and its methods from other topics of thought, and that at least it is to include all topics habitually assigned to it, there is now no option but to employ “mathematics” in the general sense of the “science concerned with the logical deduction of consequences from the general premisses of all reasoning.”
In article 'Mathematics', Encyclopedia Britannica (1911, 11th ed.), Vol. 17, 880. In the 2006 DVD edition of the encyclopedia, the definition of mathematics is given as “The science of structure, order, and relation that has evolved from elemental practices of counting, measuring, and describing the shapes of objects.” [Premiss is a variant form of “premise”. —Webmaster]
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Each species has evolved a special set of solutions to the general problems that all organisms must face. By the fact of its existence, a species demonstrates that its members are able to carry out adequately a series of general functions. … These general functions offer a framework within which one can integrate one’s view of biology and focus one’s research. Such a view helps one to avoid becoming lost in a morass of unstructured detail—even though the ways in which different species perform these functions may differ widely. A few obvious examples will suffice. Organisms must remain functionally integrated. They must obtain materials from their environments, and process and release energy from these materials. … They must differentiate and grow, and they must reproduce. By focusing one’s questions on one or another of these obligatory and universal capacities, one can ensure that one’s research will not be trivial and that it will have some chance of achieving broad general applicability.
In 'Integrative Biology: An Organismic Biologist’s Point of View', Integrative and Comparative Biology (2005), 45, 331.
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ENGINEER, in the military art, an able expert man, who, by a perfect knowledge in mathematics, delineates upon paper, or marks upon the ground, all sorts of forts, and other works proper for offence and defence. He should understand the art of fortification, so as to be able, not only to discover the defects of a place, but to find a remedy proper for them; as also how to make an attack upon, as well as to defend, the place. Engineers are extremely necessary for these purposes: wherefore it is requisite that, besides being ingenious, they should be brave in proportion. When at a siege the engineers have narrowly surveyed the place, they are to make their report to the general, by acquainting him which part they judge the weakest, and where approaches may be made with most success. Their business is also to delineate the lines of circumvallation and contravallation, taking all the advantages of the ground; to mark out the trenches, places of arms, batteries, and lodgments, taking care that none of their works be flanked or discovered from the place. After making a faithful report to the general of what is a-doing, the engineers are to demand a sufficient number of workmen and utensils, and whatever else is necessary.
In Encyclopaedia Britannica or a Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (1771), Vol. 2, 497.
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Engineering is the practice of safe and economic application of the scientific laws governing the forces and materials of nature by means of organization, design and construction, for the general benefit of mankind.
1920
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For terrestrial vertebrates, the climate in the usual meteorological sense of the term would appear to be a reasonable approximation of the conditions of temperature, humidity, radiation, and air movement in which terrestrial vertebrates live. But, in fact, it would be difficult to find any other lay assumption about ecology and natural history which has less general validity. … Most vertebrates are much smaller than man and his domestic animals, and the universe of these small creatures is one of cracks and crevices, holes in logs, dense underbrush, tunnels, and nests—a world where distances are measured in yards rather than miles and where the difference between sunshine and shadow may be the difference between life and death. Actually, climate in the usual sense of the term is little more than a crude index to the physical conditions in which most terrestrial animals live.
From 'Interaction of physiology and behavior under natural conditions', collected in R.I. Bowman (ed.), The Galapagos (1966), 40.
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For the saving the long progression of the thoughts to remote and first principles in every case, the mind should provide itself several stages; that is to say, intermediate principles, which it might have recourse to in the examining those positions that come in its way. These, though they are not self-evident principles, yet, if they have been made out from them by a wary and unquestionable deduction, may be depended on as certain and infallible truths, and serve as unquestionable truths to prove other points depending upon them, by a nearer and shorter view than remote and general maxims. … And thus mathematicians do, who do not in every new problem run it back to the first axioms through all the whole train of intermediate propositions. Certain theorems that they have settled to themselves upon sure demonstration, serve to resolve to them multitudes of propositions which depend on them, and are as firmly made out from thence as if the mind went afresh over every link of the whole chain that tie them to first self-evident principles.
In The Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 21.
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For they are, in truth, textbooks of life: they gather outer and inner experiences into a general and connected whole.
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 189.
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From a pragmatic point of view, the difference between living against a background of foreigness (an indifferent Universe) and one of intimacy (a benevolent Universe) means the difference between a general habit of wariness and one of trust.
…...
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General preparatory instruction must continue to be the aim in the instruction at the higher institutions of learning. Exclusive selection and treatment of subject matter with reference to specific avocations is disadvantageous.
In Resolution adopted by the German Association for the Advancement of Scientific and Mathematical Instruction, in Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung (1896), 41. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 72.
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General Theory of Relativity = Gravity too; referentially, eh?
Anagram
Anagram by V. Rabin (2003) on anagramgenius.com website.
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Generality of points of view and of methods, precision and elegance in presentation, have become, since Lagrange, the common property of all who would lay claim to the rank of scientific mathematicians. And, even if this generality leads at times to abstruseness at the expense of intuition and applicability, so that general theorems are formulated which fail to apply to a single special case, if furthermore precision at times degenerates into a studied brevity which makes it more difficult to read an article than it was to write it; if, finally, elegance of form has well-nigh become in our day the criterion of the worth or worthlessness of a proposition,—yet are these conditions of the highest importance to a wholesome development, in that they keep the scientific material within the limits which are necessary both intrinsically and extrinsically if mathematics is not to spend itself in trivialities or smother in profusion.
In Die Entwickdung der Mathematik in den letzten Jahrhunderten (1884), 14-15.
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Having discovered … by observation and comparison that certain objects agree in certain respects, we generalise the qualities in which they coincide,—that is, from a certain number of individual instances we infer a general law; we perform an act of Induction. This induction is erroneously viewed as analytic; it is purely a synthetic process.
In Lecture VI of his Biennial Course, by William Hamilton and Henry L. Mansel (ed.) and John Veitch (ed.), Metaphysics (1860), Vol. 1, 101.
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He that would learn by experiments, ought to proceed from particulars to generals; but the method of instructing academically, proceeds from generals to particulars
As quoted in Thomas Steele Hall, A Source Book in Animal Biology (1951), 486.
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I am convinced that this is the only means of advancing science, of clearing the mind from a confused heap of contradictory observations, that do but perplex and puzzle the Student, when he compares them, or misguide him if he gives himself up to their authority; but bringing them under one general head, can alone give rest and satisfaction to an inquisitive mind.
From 'A Discourse Delivered to the Students of the Royal Academy, on the Distribution of Prizes' (11 Dec 1770), in Seven Discourses Delivered in the Royal Academy (1778), 98.
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I believe television is going to be the test of the modern world, and that in this new opportunity to see beyond the range of our vision we shall discover either a new and unbearable disturbance of the general peace or a saving radiance in the sky. We shall stand or fall by television—of that I am quite sure
In 'Removal' (Jul 1938), collected in One Man's Meat (1942), 3.
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I concluded that I might take as a general rule the principle that all things which we very clearly and obviously conceive are true: only observing, however, that there is some difficulty in rightly determining the objects which we distinctly conceive.
In Discours de la Méthode (1637), as translated by J. Veitch, A Discourse on Method (1912), 27.
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I contend that the continued racial classification of Homo sapiens represents an outmoded approach to the general problem of differentiation within a species. In other words, I reject a racial classification of humans for the same reasons that I prefer not to divide into subspecies the prodigiously variable West Indian land snails that form the subject of my own research.
…...
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I do not see any reason to assume that the heuristic significance of the principle of general relativity is restricted to gravitation and that the rest of physics can be dealt with separately on the basis of special relativity, with the hope that later on the whole may be fitted consistently into a general relativistic scheme. I do not think that such an attitude, although historically understandable, can be objectively justified. The comparative smallness of what we know today as gravitational effects is not a conclusive reason for ignoring the principle of general relativity in theoretical investigations of a fundamental character. In other words, I do not believe that it is justifiable to ask: What would physics look like without gravitation?
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I have always consistently opposed high-tension and alternating systems of electric lighting, not only on account of danger, but because of their general unreliability and unsuitability for any general system of distribution.
In 'The Dangers of Electric Lighting', North American Review (Nov 1889), 149, No. 396, 633.
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I remember one occasion when I tried to add a little seasoning to a review, but I wasn’t allowed to. The paper was by Dorothy Maharam, and it was a perfectly sound contribution to abstract measure theory. The domains of the underlying measures were not sets but elements of more general Boolean algebras, and their range consisted not of positive numbers but of certain abstract equivalence classes. My proposed first sentence was: “The author discusses valueless measures in pointless spaces.”
In I Want to be a Mathematician: An Automathography (1985), 120.
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If the question were, “What ought to be the next objective in science?” my answer would be the teaching of science to the young, so that when the whole population grew up there would be a far more general background of common sense, based on a knowledge of the real meaning of the scientific method of discovering truth.
Marion Savin Selections from the Scientific Correspondence of Elihu Thomson (1971), v.
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In 1847 I gave an address at Newton, Mass., before a Teachers’ Institute conducted by Horace Mann. My subject was grasshoppers. I passed around a large jar of these insects, and made every teacher take one and hold it while I was speaking. If any one dropped the insect, I stopped till he picked it up. This was at that time a great innovation, and excited much laughter and derision. There can be no true progress in the teaching of natural science until such methods become general.
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In all likelihood, it is the local conditions of society, which determine the form of the disease, and we can so far think of it as a fairly general result, that the simplest form is the more common, the more paltry and unbalanced the food, and the worse the dwellings are.
From the original German, “Aller Wahrscheinlichkeit nach sind es die lokalen Verhältnisse der Gesellschaft, welche die Form der Krankheit bestimmen, und wir können bis jetzt als ein ziemlich allgemeines Resultathinstellen, daß die einfache Form umso häufiger ist, je armseliger und einseitiger die Nahrungsmittel und je schlechter die Wohnungen sind,” in 'Mittheilungen über die in Oberschlesien herrschende Typhus-Epidemie', R. Virchow and B. Reinhardt, Archiv für pathologische Anatomie und Physiologie und für klinische Medicin (1848), 2, No. 2, 248. English version by Webmaster with Google translate.
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In all matters of opinion and science ... the difference between men is ... oftener found to lie in generals than in particulars; and to be less in reality than in appearance. An explication of the terms commonly ends the controversy, and the disputants are surprised to find that they had been quarrelling, while at bottom they agreed in their judgement.
Dissertation IV, 'Of the Standard of Taste', Four Dissertations (1757), 204.
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In Euclid each proposition stands by itself; its connection with others is never indicated; the leading ideas contained in its proof are not stated; general principles do not exist. In modern methods, on the other hand, the greatest importance is attached to the leading thoughts which pervade the whole; and general principles, which bring whole groups of theorems under one aspect, are given rather than separate propositions. The whole tendency is toward generalization. A straight line is considered as given in its entirety, extending both ways to infinity, while Euclid is very careful never to admit anything but finite quantities. The treatment of the infinite is in fact another fundamental difference between the two methods. Euclid avoids it, in modern mathematics it is systematically introduced, for only thus is generality obtained.
In 'Geometry', Encyclopedia Britannica (9th edition).
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In general, mankind, since the improvement of cookery, eat about twice as much as nature requires.
Louis Klopsch, Many Thoughts of Many Minds (1896), 67.
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In the index to the six hundred odd pages of Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History, abridged version, the names of Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes and Newton do not occur yet their cosmic quest destroyed the medieval vision of an immutable social order in a walled-in universe and transformed the European landscape, society, culture, habits and general outlook, as thoroughly as if a new species had arisen on this planet.
In The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), Preface, 13.
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In the republic of scholarship everybody wants to rule, there are no aldermen there, and that is a bad thing: every general must, so to speak, draw up the plan, stand sentry, sweep out the guardroom and fetch the water; no one wants to work for the good of another.
Aphorism 80 in Notebook D (1773-1775), as translated by R.J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 56.
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In the secondary schools mathematics should be a part of general culture and not contributory to technical training of any kind; it should cultivate space intuition, logical thinking, the power to rephrase in clear language thoughts recognized as correct, and ethical and esthetic effects; so treated, mathematics is a quite indispensable factor of general education in so far as the latter shows its traces in the comprehension of the development of civilization and the ability to participate in the further tasks of civilization.
The purposes of instruction in mathematics in secondary schools formulated by the German Society for the Advancement of Instruction. From Unterrichtsblätter fur Mathematik und Naturwissenschaft (1904), 128. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 72-73.
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Induction may be defined, the operation of discovering and proving general propositions.
In A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive: Being a Connected View of the Principles of Evidence, and the Methods of Scientific Investigation (1843), Vol. 1, 347.
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Induction. The mental operation by which from a number of individual instances, we arrive at a general law. The process, according to Hamilton, is only logically valid when all the instances included in the law are enumerated. This being seldom, if ever, possible, the conclusion of an Induction is usually liable to more or less uncertainty, and Induction is therefore incapable of giving us necessary (general) truths.
Stated as narrative, not a direct quote, by his biographer W.H.S. Monck in 'Glossary of Philosophical Terms', appended in Sir William Hamilton (1881), 181.
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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.
In The Phenomenon of Man (1975), pp 218, 220, 223, 227, 228, 277.
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It has been said by a distinguished philosopher that England is “usually the last to enter into the general movement of the European mind.” The author of the remark probably meant to assert that a man or a system may have become famous on the continent, while we are almost ignorant of the name of the man and the claims of his system. Perhaps, however, a wider range might be given to the assertion. An exploded theory or a disadvantageous practice, like a rebel or a patriot in distress, seeks refuge on our shores to spend its last days in comfort if not in splendour.
Opening from essay, 'Elementary Geometry', included in The Conflict of Studies and Other Essays (1873), 136.
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It has been stated that the research should be discontinued because it involved “meddling with evolution.” Homo sapiens has been meddling with evolution in many ways and for a long time. We started in a big way when we domesticated plants and animals. We continue every time we alter the environment. In general, recombinant DNA research docs not seem to represent a significant increase in the risks associated with such meddling—although it may significantly increase the rate at which we meddle.
In letter to the Board of Directors of Friends of the Earth, published in The Coevolutionary Quarterly (Spring 1978), as abstracted and cited in New Scientist (6 Jul 1978), 35.
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It is a serious question whether America, following England’s lead, has not gone into problem-solving too extensively. Certain it is that we are producing no text-books in which the theory is presented in the delightful style which characterizes many of the French works … , or those of the recent Italian school, or, indeed, those of the continental writers in general.
In The Teaching of Elementary Mathematics (1902), 219.
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It is admitted by all that a finished or even a competent reasoner is not the work of nature alone; the experience of every day makes it evident that education develops faculties which would otherwise never have manifested their existence. It is, therefore, as necessary to learn to reason before we can expect to be able to reason, as it is to learn to swim or fence, in order to attain either of those arts. Now, something must be reasoned upon, it matters not much what it is, provided it can be reasoned upon with certainty. The properties of mind or matter, or the study of languages, mathematics, or natural history, may be chosen for this purpose. Now of all these, it is desirable to choose the one which admits of the reasoning being verified, that is, in which we can find out by other means, such as measurement and ocular demonstration of all sorts, whether the results are true or not. When the guiding property of the loadstone was first ascertained, and it was necessary to learn how to use this new discovery, and to find out how far it might be relied on, it would have been thought advisable to make many passages between ports that were well known before attempting a voyage of discovery. So it is with our reasoning faculties: it is desirable that their powers should be exerted upon objects of such a nature, that we can tell by other means whether the results which we obtain are true or false, and this before it is safe to trust entirely to reason. Now the mathematics are peculiarly well adapted for this purpose, on the following grounds:
1. Every term is distinctly explained, and has but one meaning, and it is rarely that two words are employed to mean the same thing.
2. The first principles are self-evident, and, though derived from observation, do not require more of it than has been made by children in general.
3. The demonstration is strictly logical, taking nothing for granted except self-evident first principles, resting nothing upon probability, and entirely independent of authority and opinion.
4. When the conclusion is obtained by reasoning, its truth or falsehood can be ascertained, in geometry by actual measurement, in algebra by common arithmetical calculation. This gives confidence, and is absolutely necessary, if, as was said before, reason is not to be the instructor, but the pupil.
5. There are no words whose meanings are so much alike that the ideas which they stand for may be confounded. Between the meaning of terms there is no distinction, except a total distinction, and all adjectives and adverbs expressing difference of degrees are avoided.
In On the Study and Difficulties of Mathematics (1898), chap. 1.
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It is astonishing how much the word infinitely is misused: everything is infinitely more beautiful, infinitely better, etc. The concept must have something pleasing about it, or its misuse could not have become so general.
Aphorism 133 in Notebook J (1789-1793), as translated by R. J. Hollingdale in Aphorisms (1990). Reprinted as The Waste Books (2000), 155.
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It is not Cayley’s way to analyze concepts into their ultimate elements. … But he is master of the empirical utilization of the material: in the way he combines it to form a single abstract concept which he generalizes and then subjects to computative tests, in the way the newly acquired data are made to yield at a single stroke the general comprehensive idea to the subsequent numerical verification of which years of labor are devoted. Cayley is thus the natural philosopher among mathematicians.
In Mathematische Annalen, Bd. 46 (1895), 479. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 146.
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It is not of the essence of mathematics to be conversant with the ideas of number and quantity. Whether as a general habit of mind it would be desirable to apply symbolic processes to moral argument, is another question.
An Investigation of the Laws of Thought (1854), 12.
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It is not so long since, during one of the meetings of the Association, one of the leading English newspapers briefly described a sitting of this Section in the words, “Saturday morning was devoted to pure mathematics, and so there was nothing of any general interest:” still, such toleration is better than undisguised and ill-informed hostility.
In Report of the 67th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
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It is not surprising, in view of the polydynamic constitution of the genuinely mathematical mind, that many of the major heros of the science, men like Desargues and Pascal, Descartes and Leibnitz, Newton, Gauss and Bolzano, Helmholtz and Clifford, Riemann and Salmon and Plücker and Poincaré, have attained to high distinction in other fields not only of science but of philosophy and letters too. And when we reflect that the very greatest mathematical achievements have been due, not alone to the peering, microscopic, histologic vision of men like Weierstrass, illuminating the hidden recesses, the minute and intimate structure of logical reality, but to the larger vision also of men like Klein who survey the kingdoms of geometry and analysis for the endless variety of things that flourish there, as the eye of Darwin ranged over the flora and fauna of the world, or as a commercial monarch contemplates its industry, or as a statesman beholds an empire; when we reflect not only that the Calculus of Probability is a creation of mathematics but that the master mathematician is constantly required to exercise judgment—judgment, that is, in matters not admitting of certainty—balancing probabilities not yet reduced nor even reducible perhaps to calculation; when we reflect that he is called upon to exercise a function analogous to that of the comparative anatomist like Cuvier, comparing theories and doctrines of every degree of similarity and dissimilarity of structure; when, finally, we reflect that he seldom deals with a single idea at a tune, but is for the most part engaged in wielding organized hosts of them, as a general wields at once the division of an army or as a great civil administrator directs from his central office diverse and scattered but related groups of interests and operations; then, I say, the current opinion that devotion to mathematics unfits the devotee for practical affairs should be known for false on a priori grounds. And one should be thus prepared to find that as a fact Gaspard Monge, creator of descriptive geometry, author of the classic Applications de l’analyse à la géométrie; Lazare Carnot, author of the celebrated works, Géométrie de position, and Réflections sur la Métaphysique du Calcul infinitesimal; Fourier, immortal creator of the Théorie analytique de la chaleur; Arago, rightful inheritor of Monge’s chair of geometry; Poncelet, creator of pure projective geometry; one should not be surprised, I say, to find that these and other mathematicians in a land sagacious enough to invoke their aid, rendered, alike in peace and in war, eminent public service.
In Lectures on Science, Philosophy and Art (1908), 32-33.
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It is the function of notions in science to be useful, to be interesting, to be verifiable and to acquire value from anyone of these qualities. Scientific notions have little to gain as science from being forced into relation with that formidable abstraction, “general truth.”
In paper delivered before the Royal College of Surgeons of England (15 Feb 1932), in 'The Commemoration of Great Men', British Medical Journal (1932), 1, 32. Collected in The Collected Papers of Wilfred Trotter, FRS (1941), 29.
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It needs scarcely be pointed out that in placing Mathematics at the head of Positive Philosophy, we are only extending the application of the principle which has governed our whole Classification. We are simply carrying back our principle to its first manifestation. Geometrical and Mechanical phenomena are the most general, the most simple, the most abstract of all,— the most irreducible to others, the most independent of them; serving, in fact, as a basis to all others. It follows that the study of them is an indispensable preliminary to that of all others. Therefore must Mathematics hold the first place in the hierarchy of the sciences, and be the point of departure of all Education whether general or special.
In Auguste Comte and Harriet Martineau (trans.), The Positive Philosophy (1858), Introduction, Chap. 2, 50.
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It seems to me that the older subjects, classics and mathematics, are strongly to be recommended on the ground of the accuracy with which we can compare the relative performance of the students. In fact the definiteness of these subjects is obvious, and is commonly admitted. There is however another advantage, which I think belongs in general to these subjects, that the examinations can be brought to bear on what is really most valuable in these subjects.
In Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 6-7.
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It was his [Leibnitz’s] love of method and order, and the conviction that such order and harmony existed in the real world, and that our success in understanding it depended upon the degree and order which we could attain in our own thoughts, that originally was probably nothing more than a habit which by degrees grew into a formal rule.* This habit was acquired by early occupation with legal and mathematical questions. We have seen how the theory of combinations and arrangements of elements had a special interest for him. We also saw how mathematical calculations served him as a type and model of clear and orderly reasoning, and how he tried to introduce method and system into logical discussions, by reducing to a small number of terms the multitude of compound notions he had to deal with. This tendency increased in strength, and even in those early years he elaborated the idea of a general arithmetic, with a universal language of symbols, or a characteristic which would be applicable to all reasoning processes, and reduce philosophical investigations to that simplicity and certainty which the use of algebraic symbols had introduced into mathematics.
A mental attitude such as this is always highly favorable for mathematical as well as for philosophical investigations. Wherever progress depends upon precision and clearness of thought, and wherever such can be gained by reducing a variety of investigations to a general method, by bringing a multitude of notions under a common term or symbol, it proves inestimable. It necessarily imports the special qualities of number—viz., their continuity, infinity and infinite divisibility—like mathematical quantities—and destroys the notion that irreconcilable contrasts exist in nature, or gaps which cannot be bridged over. Thus, in his letter to Arnaud, Leibnitz expresses it as his opinion that geometry, or the philosophy of space, forms a step to the philosophy of motion—i.e., of corporeal things—and the philosophy of motion a step to the philosophy of mind.
[* This sentence has been reworded for the purpose of this quotation.]
In Leibnitz (1884), 44-45.
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It would appear that Deductive and Demonstrative Sciences are all, without exception, Inductive Sciences: that their evidence is that of experience, but that they are also, in virtue of the peculiar character of one indispensable portion of the general formulae according to which their inductions are made, Hypothetical Sciences. Their conclusions are true only upon certain suppositions, which are, or ought to be, approximations to the truth, but are seldom, if ever, exactly true; and to this hypothetical character is to be ascribed the peculiar certainty, which is supposed to be inherent in demonstration.
In System of Logic, Bk. 2, chap. 6, 1.
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It would seem at first sight as if the rapid expansion of the region of mathematics must be a source of danger to its future progress. Not only does the area widen but the subjects of study increase rapidly in number, and the work of the mathematician tends to become more and more specialized. It is, of course, merely a brilliant exaggeration to say that no mathematician is able to understand the work of any other mathematician, but it is certainly true that it is daily becoming more and more difficult for a mathematician to keep himself acquainted, even in a general way, with the progress of any of the branches of mathematics except those which form the field of his own labours. I believe, however, that the increasing extent of the territory of mathematics will always be counteracted by increased facilities in the means of communication. Additional knowledge opens to us new principles and methods which may conduct us with the greatest ease to results which previously were most difficult of access; and improvements in notation may exercise the most powerful effects both in the simplification and accessibility of a subject. It rests with the worker in mathematics not only to explore new truths, but to devise the language by which they may be discovered and expressed; and the genius of a great mathematician displays itself no less in the notation he invents for deciphering his subject than in the results attained. … I have great faith in the power of well-chosen notation to simplify complicated theories and to bring remote ones near and I think it is safe to predict that the increased knowledge of principles and the resulting improvements in the symbolic language of mathematics will always enable us to grapple satisfactorily with the difficulties arising from the mere extent of the subject.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section A., (1890), Nature, 42, 466.
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Law springs from experiment, but not immediately. Experiment is individual, the law deduced from it is general; experiment is only approximate, the law is precise, or at least pretends to be. Experiment is made under conditions always complex, the enunciation of the law eliminates these complications. This is what is called ‘correcting the systematic errors’.
From La Valeur de la Science (1904), 142, as translated by George Bruce Halsted (trans.), in The Value of Science (1907), 77. From the French, “La loi sort de l’expérience, mais elle n’en sort pas immédiatement. L’expérience est individuelle, la loi qu’on en tire est générale, l’expérience n’est qu’approchée, la loi est précise ou du moins prétend l’élre. L’expérience se fait dans des conditions toujours complexes, l’énoncé de la loi élimine ces complications. C’est ce qu’on appelle ‘corriger les erreurs systématiques’.”
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Life through many long periods has been manifested in a countless host of varying structures, all circumscribed by one general plan, each appointed to a definite place, and limited to an appointed duration. On the whole the earth has been thus more and more covered by the associated life of plants and animals, filling all habitable space with beings capable of enjoying their own existence or ministering to the enjoyment of others; till finally, after long preparation, a being was created capable of the wonderful power of measuring and weighing all the world of matter and space which surrounds him, of treasuring up the past history of all the forms of life, and considering his own relation to the whole. When he surveys this vast and co-ordinated system, and inquires into its history and origin, can he be at a loss to decide whether it be a work of Divine thought and wisdom, or the fortunate offspring of a few atoms of matter, warmed by the anima mundi, a spark of electricity, or an accidental ray of sunshine?
Life on the Earth: Its Origin and Succession (1860), 216-7.
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Mathematics in general is fundamentally the science of self-evident things.
In Anwendung der Differenlial-und Integralrechnung auf Geometric (1902), 26.
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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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MATHEMATICS … the general term for the various applications of mathematical thought, the traditional field of which is number and quantity. It has been usual to define mathematics as “the science of discrete and continuous magnitude.”
Opening statement in article 'Mathematics', Encyclopedia Britannica (1911, 11th ed.), Vol. 17, 878. Whitehead then indicated this was an inadequate definition, which he then discussed at length and tried to give an improved definition later in the article. See the quote beginning “Definition of Mathematics…” on the Alfred North Whitehead Quotes page on this website.
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Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence—whether much that is glorious—whether all that is profound—does not spring from disease of thought—from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect.
In Eleonora (1850). Collected on The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe (1859), Vol. 1, 446.
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Modern cytological work involves an intricacy of detail, the significance of which can be appreciated by the specialist alone; but Miss Stevens had a share in a discovery of importance, and her work will be remembered for this, when the minutiae of detailed investigations that she carried out have become incorporated in the general body of the subject.
In obituary, 'The Scientific Work of Miss N.M. Steves', Science (11 Oct 1912), 36, No. 928, 468.
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Next to ignorance of the grammar of one’s native language, nothing betrays want of information so soon as ignorance in matters of geography, without which it is almost impossible to carry on conversation long on any general subject.
In The Statistical Breviary: Shewing, on a Principle Entirely New, the Resources of Every State and Kingdom in Europe (1801), 5.
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No part of Mathematics suffers more from the triviality of its initial presentation to beginners than the great subject of series. Two minor examples of series, namely arithmetic and geometric series, are considered; these examples are important because they are the simplest examples of an important general theory. But the general ideas are never disclosed; and thus the examples, which exemplify nothing, are reduced to silly trivialities.
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 194.
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Nobody supposes that doctors are less virtuous than judges; but a judge whose salary and reputation depended on whether the verdict was for plaintiff or defendant, prosecutor or prisoner, would be as little trusted as a general in the pay of the enemy.
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None of us knows anything, not even whether we know or do not know, nor do we know whether not knowing and knowing exist, nor in general whether there is anything or not.
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Nor do I know any study which can compete with mathematics in general in furnishing matter for severe and continued thought. Metaphysical problems may be even more difficult; but then they are far less definite, and, as they rarely lead to any precise conclusion, we miss the power of checking our own operations, and of discovering whether we are thinking and reasoning or merely fancying and dreaming.
In Conflict of Studies (1873), 13.
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Not all living creatures die. An amoeba, for example, need never die; it need not even, like certain generals, fade away. It just divides and becomes two new amoebas.
In talk, 'Origin of Death' (1970).
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Now it came to me: … the independence of the gravitational acceleration from the nature of the falling substance, may be expressed as follows: In a gravitational field (of small spatial extension) things behave as they do in a space free of gravitation. … This happened in 1908. Why were another seven years required for the construction of the general theory of relativity? The main reason lies in the fact that it is not so easy to free oneself from the idea that coordinates must have an immediate metrical meaning.
In Paul Arthur Schilpp, 'Autobiographical Notes', Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist (1949), 65-67.
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Once it happened that all the other members of a man mutinied against the stomach, which they accused as the single, idle, uncontributing part in the entire body, while the rest were put to hardships and the expense of much labor to supply and minister to its appetites. However, the stomach merely ridiculed the fatuity of the members, who appeared not to be aware that the stomach certainly does receive the general nourishment, but only to return it again and distribute it amongst the rest.
Fable related by Menenius Agrippa to resolve a grievance of plebeians against the social hierarchy, described in 'Life of Coriolanus', collected in A.H. Clough (ed.), Plutarch’s Lives of Illustrious Men (1859, 1881), 155.
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One general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die.
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Our most trustworthy safeguard in making general statements on this question is imagination. If we can imagine the breaking of a law of physics then… it is in some degree an empirical law. With a purely rational law we could not conceive an alternative… This ultimate criterion serves as an anchor to keep us from drifting unduly in a perilous sea of thought.
From concluding paragraph of 'Transition to General Relativity', The Special Theory of Relativity (1940, 2014), Chap 8, 91.
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Particular and contingent inventions in the solution of problems, which, though many times more concise than a general method would allow, yet, in my judgment, are less proper to instruct a learner, as acrostics, and such kind of artificial poetry, though never so excellent, would be but improper examples to instruct one that aims at Ovidean poetry.
In Letter to Collins (Macclesfield, 1670), Correspondence of Scientific Men (1841), Vol. 2, 307.
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Petr Beckmann has divided the men who made history into two classes, the thinkers and the thugs. The Greeks were the thinkers and the Romans were the thugs. The general law seems to be that the thugs always win, but the thinkers always outlive them.
In Mathematical Circles Squared (1972), 153. Petr Beckman wrote: “150 years saw the confrontation of Athens and Sparta, the thinkers against the thugs. The thugs always win, but the thinkers always outlast them”, in A History of Pi (1970), 34.
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Philosophers no longer write for the intelligent, only for their fellow professionals. The few thousand academic philosophers in the world do not stint themselves: they maintain more than seventy learned journals. But in the handful that cover more than one subdivision of philosophy, any given philosopher can hardly follow more than one or two articles in each issue. This hermetic condition is attributed to “technical problems” in the subject. Since William James, Russell, and Whitehead, philosophy, like history, has been confiscated by scholarship and locked away from the contamination of general use.
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Philosophy is not a science of things in general, but a science that investigates the presuppositions of experience and discovers the nature of the first principle.
Epigram to 'Philosophy in Outline', The Journal of Speculative Philosophy (Jul 1883), 17, No. 3, 296.
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Rulers and generals muster their troops. Magnates muster the sums of money which give them power. The fascist dictators muster the irrational human reactions which make it possible for them to attain and maintain their power over the masses. The scientists muster knowledge and means of research. But, thus far, no organization fighting for freedom has ever mustered the biological arsenal where the weapons are to be found for the establishment and the maintenance of human freedom. All precision of our social existence notwithstanding, there is as yet no definition of the word freedom which would be in keeping with natural science. No word is more misused and misunderstood. To define freedom is the same as to define sexual health. But nobody will openly admit this. The advocacy of personal and social freedom is connected with anxiety and guilt feelings. As if to be free were a sin or at least not quite as it should be. Sex-economy makes this guilt feeling comprehensible: freedom without sexual self-determination is in itself a contradiction. But to be sexual means—according to the prevailing human structure—to be sinful or guilty. There are very few people who experience sexual love without guilt feeling. “Free love” has acquired a degrading meaning: it lost the meaning given it by the old fighters for freedom. In films and in books, to be genital and to be criminal are presented as the same thing.
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Science is knowledge arranged and classified according to truth, facts, and the general laws of nature.
Interview in San Francisco Bulletin (22 Jan 1926). As cited in Michael C. and Linda Rose Thomsett, A Speaker's Treasury of Quotations: Maxims, Witticisms and Quips for Speeches and Presentations (2009), 102-103. Also in 'Science and Civilization', Prescott Evening Courier (3 Nov 1925), 6.
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Science, in its ultimate ideal, consists of a set of propositions arranged in a hierarchy, the lowest level of the hierarchy being concerned with particular facts, and the highest with some general law, governing everything in the universe. The various levels in the hierarchy have a two-fold logical connection, travelling one up, one down; the upward connection proceeds by induction, the downward by deduction.
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), 38.
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Scientific discovery, or the formulation of scientific theory, starts in with the unvarnished and unembroidered evidence of the senses. It starts with simple observation—simple, unbiased, unprejudiced, naive, or innocent observation—and out of this sensory evidence, embodied in the form of simple propositions or declarations of fact, generalizations will grow up and take shape, almost as if some process of crystallization or condensation were taking place. Out of a disorderly array of facts, an orderly theory, an orderly general statement, will somehow emerge.
In 'Is the Scientific Paper Fraudulent?', The Saturday Review (1 Aug 1964), 42.
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Study and, in general, the pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all of our lives.
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Suppose then I want to give myself a little training in the art of reasoning; suppose I want to get out of the region of conjecture and probability, free myself from the difficult task of weighing evidence, and putting instances together to arrive at general propositions, and simply desire to know how to deal with my general propositions when I get them, and how to deduce right inferences from them; it is clear that I shall obtain this sort of discipline best in those departments of thought in which the first principles are unquestionably true. For in all our thinking, if we come to erroneous conclusions, we come to them either by accepting false premises to start with—in which case our reasoning, however good, will not save us from error; or by reasoning badly, in which case the data we start from may be perfectly sound, and yet our conclusions may be false. But in the mathematical or pure sciences,—geometry, arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, the calculus of variations or of curves,— we know at least that there is not, and cannot be, error in our first principles, and we may therefore fasten our whole attention upon the processes. As mere exercises in logic, therefore, these sciences, based as they all are on primary truths relating to space and number, have always been supposed to furnish the most exact discipline. When Plato wrote over the portal of his school. “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here,” he did not mean that questions relating to lines and surfaces would be discussed by his disciples. On the contrary, the topics to which he directed their attention were some of the deepest problems,— social, political, moral,—on which the mind could exercise itself. Plato and his followers tried to think out together conclusions respecting the being, the duty, and the destiny of man, and the relation in which he stood to the gods and to the unseen world. What had geometry to do with these things? Simply this: That a man whose mind has not undergone a rigorous training in systematic thinking, and in the art of drawing legitimate inferences from premises, was unfitted to enter on the discussion of these high topics; and that the sort of logical discipline which he needed was most likely to be obtained from geometry—the only mathematical science which in Plato’s time had been formulated and reduced to a system. And we in this country [England] have long acted on the same principle. Our future lawyers, clergy, and statesmen are expected at the University to learn a good deal about curves, and angles, and numbers and proportions; not because these subjects have the smallest relation to the needs of their lives, but because in the very act of learning them they are likely to acquire that habit of steadfast and accurate thinking, which is indispensable to success in all the pursuits of life.
In Lectures on Teaching (1906), 891-92.
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The alternative to the Big Bang is not, in my opinion, the steady state; it is instead the more general theory of continuous creation. Continuous creation can occur in bursts and episodes. These mini-bangs can produce all the wonderful element-building that Fred Hoyle discovered and contributed to cosmology. This kind of element and galaxy formation can take place within an unbounded, non-expanding universe. It will also satisfy precisely the Friedmann solutions of general relativity. It can account very well for all the facts the Big Bang explains—and also for those devastating, contradictory observations which the Big Bang must, at all costs, pretend are not there
In 'Letters: Wrangling Over the Bang', Science News (27 Jul 1991), 140, No. 4, 51. Also quoted in Roy C. Martin, Astronomy on Trial: A Devastating and Complete Repudiation of the Big Bang Fiasco (1999), Appendix I, 217.
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The art of reasoning consists in getting hold of the subject at the right end, of seizing on the few general ideas that illuminate the whole, and of persistently organizing all subsidiary facts round them.
In 'Presidential Address to the London Branch of the Mathematical Association', Mathematical Gazette (Mar 1913), 7, No. 104, 92.
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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 contingency of history (both for life in general and for the cultures of Homo sapiens) and human free will (in the factual rather than theological sense) are conjoined concepts, and no better evidence can be produced than the ‘experimental’ production of markedly different solutions in identical environments.
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The development of civilization and industry in general has always shown itself so active in the destruction of forests that everything that has been done for their conservation and production is completely insignificant in comparison.
Karl Marx
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The divergent series are the invention of the devil, and it is a shame to base on them any demonstration whatsoever. By using them, one may draw any conclusion he pleases and that is why these series have produced so many fallacies and so many paradoxes.
From letter (Jan 1828) to his former teacher Berndt Holmböe. In Morris Kline, Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty (1982), 170.
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The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
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The effects of general change in literature are most tellingly recorded not in alteration of the best products, but in the transformation of the most ordinary workaday books; for when potboilers adopt the new style, then the revolution is complete.
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The essayist is … sustained by the childish belief that everything he thinks about, everything that happens to him, is of general interest.
First line of Foreword in Essays of E.B. White (1977, 2014), vii.
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The Excellence of Modern Geometry is in nothing more evident, than in those full and adequate Solutions it gives to Problems; representing all possible Cases in one view, and in one general Theorem many times comprehending whole Sciences; which deduced at length into Propositions, and demonstrated after the manner of the Ancients, might well become the subjects of large Treatises: For whatsoever Theorem solves the most complicated Problem of the kind, does with a due Reduction reach all the subordinate Cases.
In 'An Instance of the Excellence of Modern Algebra, etc', Philosophical Transactions, 1694, 960.
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The flights of the imagination which occur to the pure mathematician are in general so much better described in his formulas than in words, that it is not remarkable to find the subject treated by outsiders as something essentially cold and uninteresting— … the only successful attempt to invest mathematical reasoning with a halo of glory—that made in this section by Prof. Sylvester—is known to a comparative few, …
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science (1871), Nature Vol. 4, 271,
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The general knowledge of our author [Leonhard Euler] was more extensive than could well be expected, in one who had pursued, with such unremitting ardor, mathematics and astronomy as his favorite studies. He had made a very considerable progress in medical, botanical, and chemical science. What was still more extraordinary, he was an excellent scholar, and possessed in a high degree what is generally called erudition. He had attentively read the most eminent writers of ancient Rome; the civil and literary history of all ages and all nations was familiar to him; and foreigners, who were only acquainted with his works, were astonished to find in the conversation of a man, whose long life seemed solely occupied in mathematical and physical researches and discoveries, such an extensive acquaintance with the most interesting branches of literature. In this respect, no doubt, he was much indebted to an uncommon memory, which seemed to retain every idea that was conveyed to it, either from reading or from meditation.
In Philosophical and Mathematical Dictionary (1815), 493-494.
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The general mental qualification necessary for scientific advancement is that which is usually denominated “common sense,” though added to this, imagination, induction, and trained logic, either of common language or of mathematics, are important adjuncts.
From presidential address (24 Nov 1877) to the Philosophical Society of Washington. As cited by L.A. Bauer in his retiring president address (5 Dec 1908), 'The Instruments and Methods of Research', published in Philosophical Society of Washington Bulletin, 15, 103. Reprinted in William Crookes (ed.) The Chemical News and Journal of Industrial Science (30 Jul 1909), 59.
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The history of acceptance of new theories frequently shows the following steps: At first the new idea is treated as pure nonsense, not worth looking at. Then comes a time when a multitude of contradictory objections are raised, such as: the new theory is too fancy, or merely a new terminology; it is not fruitful, or simply wrong. Finally a state is reached when everyone seems to claim that he had always followed this theory. This usually marks the last state before general acceptance.
In 'Field Theory and the Phase Space', collected in Melvin Herman Marx, Psychological Theory: Contemporary Readings (1951), 299.
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The importance of a result is largely relative, is judged differently by different men, and changes with the times and circumstances. It has often happened that great importance has been attached to a problem merely on account of the difficulties which it presented; and indeed if for its solution it has been necessary to invent new methods, noteworthy artifices, etc., the science has gained more perhaps through these than through the final result. In general we may call important all investigations relating to things which in themselves are important; all those which have a large degree of generality, or which unite under a single point of view subjects apparently distinct, simplifying and elucidating them; all those which lead to results that promise to be the source of numerous consequences; etc.
From 'On Some Recent Tendencies in Geometric Investigations', Rivista di Matematica (1891), 44. In Bulletin American Mathematical Society (1904), 444.
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The laws expressing the relations between energy and matter are, however, not solely of importance in pure science. They necessarily come first in order ... in the whole record of human experience, and they control, in the last resort, the rise or fall of political systems, the freedom or bondage of nations, the movements of commerce and industry, the origin of wealth and poverty, and the general physical welfare of the race.
In Matter and Energy (1912), 10-11.
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The mathematicians have been very much absorbed with finding the general solution of algebraic equations, and several of them have tried to prove the impossibility of it. However, if I am not mistaken, they have not as yet succeeded. I therefore dare hope that the mathematicians will receive this memoir with good will, for its purpose is to fill this gap in the theory of algebraic equations.
Opening of Memoir on Algebraic Equations, Proving the Impossibility of a Solution of the General Equation of the Fifth Degree. The paper was originally published (1824) in French, as a pamphlet, in Oslo. Collected in Œuvres Complètes (1881), Vol. 1, 28. Translation by W.H. Langdon collected in David Eugene Smith, A Source Book in Mathematics (2012), 261. In this work, he showed why—despite two centuries of efforts by mathematicians—solving equations of the fifth degree would remain futile. The insights from this paper led to the modern theory of equations.
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The name of Sir Isaac Newton has by general consent been placed at the head of those great men who have been the ornaments of their species. … The philosopher [Laplace], indeed, to whom posterity will probably assign a place next to Newton, has characterized the Principia as pre-eminent above all the productions of human intellect.
In Life of Sir Isaac Newton (1831), 1, 2.
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The opinion appears to be gaining ground that this very general conception of functionality, born on mathematical ground, is destined to supersede the narrower notion of causation, traditional in connection with the natural sciences. As an abstract formulation of the idea of determination in its most general sense, the notion of functionality includes and transcends the more special notion of causation as a one-sided determination of future phenomena by means of present conditions; it can be used to express the fact of the subsumption under a general law of past, present, and future alike, in a sequence of phenomena. From this point of view the remark of Huxley that Mathematics “knows nothing of causation” could only be taken to express the whole truth, if by the term “causation” is understood “efficient causation.” The latter notion has, however, in recent times been to an increasing extent regarded as just as irrelevant in the natural sciences as it is in Mathematics; the idea of thorough-going determinancy, in accordance with formal law, being thought to be alone significant in either domain.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science (1910), Nature, 84, 290.
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The position in which we are now is a very strange one which in general political life never happened. Namely, the thing that I refer to is this: To have security against atomic bombs and against the other biological weapons, we have to prevent war, for if we cannot prevent war every nation will use every means that is at their disposal; and in spite of all promises they make, they will do it.
…...
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The presentation of mathematics where you start with definitions, for example, is simply wrong. Definitions aren't the places where things start. Mathematics starts with ideas and general concepts, and then definitions are isolated from concepts. Definitions occur somewhere in the middle of a progression or the development of a mathematical concept. The same thing applies to theorems and other icons of mathematical progress. They occur in the middle of a progression of how we explore the unknown.
Interview for website of the Mathematical Association of America.
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The progress of Science consists in observing interconnections and in showing with a patient ingenuity that the events of this ever-shifting world are but examples of a few general relations, called laws. To see what is general in what is particular, and what is permanent in what is transitory, is the aim of scientific thought.
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 11.
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The psychiatric interviewer is supposed to be doing three things: considering what the patient could mean by what he says; considering how he himself can best phrase what he wishes to communicate to the patient; and, at the same time, observing the general pattern of the events being communicated. In addition to that, to make notes which will be of more than evocative value, or come anywhere near being a verbatim record of what is said, in my opinion is beyond the capacity of most human beings.
From The Psychiatric Interview (1954, 1970), 48.
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The purpose of the history of science is to establish the genesis and the development of scientific facts and ideas, taking into account all intellectual exchanges and all influences brought into play by the very progress of civilization. It is indeed a history of civilization considered from its highest point of view. The center of interest is the evolution of science, but general history remains always in the background.
In The Monist (1916), 26, 333; as cited in 'The Teaching of the History of Science', The Scientific Monthly (Sep 1918), 194.
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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 question of the origin of the hypothesis belongs to a domain in which no very general rules can be given; experiment, analogy and constructive intuition play their part here. But once the correct hypothesis is formulated, the principle of mathematical induction is often sufficient to provide the proof.
As co-author with Herbert Robbins, in What Is Mathematics?: An Elementary Approach to Ideas and Methods (1941, 1996), 15.
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The significance of a fact is relative to [the general body of scientific] knowledge. To say that a fact is significant in science, is to say that it helps to establish or refute some general law; for science, though it starts from observation of the particular, is not concerned essentially with the particular, but with the general. A fact, in science, is not a mere fact, but an instance. In this the scientist differs from the artist, who, if he deigns to notice facts at all, is likely to notice them in all their particularity.
In The Scientific Outlook (1931, 2009), 38.
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The teaching of elementary mathematics should be conducted so that the way should be prepared for the building upon them of the higher mathematics. The teacher should always bear in mind and look forward to what is to come after. The pupil should not be taught what may be sufficient for the time, but will lead to difficulties in the future. … I think the fault in teaching arithmetic is that of not attending to general principles and teaching instead of particular rules. … I am inclined to attack Teaching of Mathematics on the grounds that it does not dwell sufficiently on a few general axiomatic principles.
In John Perry (ed.), Discussion on the Teaching of Mathematics (1901), 33. The discussion took place on 14 Sep 1901 at the British Association at Glasgow, during a joint meeting of the mathematics and physics sections with the education section. The proceedings began with an address by John Perry. Professor Hudson was the first speak in the Discussion which followed.
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The union of philosophical and mathematical productivity, which besides in Plato we find only in Pythagoras, Descartes and Leibnitz, has always yielded the choicest fruits to mathematics; To the first we owe scientific mathematics in general, Plato discovered the analytic method, by means of which mathematics was elevated above the view-point of the elements, Descartes created the analytical geometry, our own illustrious countryman discovered the infinitesimal calculus—and just these are the four greatest steps in the development of mathematics.
In Geschichte der Mathematik im Altertum und im Mittelalter (1874), 149-150. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 210. From the original German, “Die Verbindung philosophischer und mathematischer Productivität, wie wir sie ausser in Platon wohl nur noch in Pythagoras, Descartes, Leibnitz vorfinden, hat der Mathematik immer die schönsten Früchte gebracht: Ersterem verdanken wir die wissenschaftliche Mathematik überhaupt, Platon erfand die analytische Methode, durch welche sich die Mathematik über den Standpunct der Elemente erhob, Descartes schuf die analytische Geometrie, unser berühmter Landsmann den Infinitesimalcalcül—und eben daß sind die vier grössten Stufen in der Entwickelung der Mathematik.”
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The value of mathematical instruction as a preparation for those more difficult investigations, consists in the applicability not of its doctrines but of its methods. Mathematics will ever remain the past perfect type of the deductive method in general; and the applications of mathematics to the simpler branches of physics furnish the only school in which philosophers can effectually learn the most difficult and important of their art, the employment of the laws of simpler phenomena for explaining and predicting those of the more complex. These grounds are quite sufficient for deeming mathematical training an indispensable basis of real scientific education, and regarding with Plato, one who is … as wanting in one of the most essential qualifications for the successful cultivation of the higher branches of philosophy
In System of Logic, Bk. 3, chap. 24, sect. 9.
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There are two processes which we adopt consciously or unconsciously when we try to prophesy. We can seek a period in the past whose conditions resemble as closely as possible those of our day, and presume that the sequel to that period will, save for some minor alterations, be similar. Secondly, we can survey the general course of development in our immediate past, and endeavor to prolong it into the near future. The first is the method the historian; the second that of the scientist. Only the second is open to us now, and this only in a partial sphere.
From 'Fifty Years Hence', Strand Magazine (Dec 1931). Reprinted in Popular Mechanics (Mar 1932), 57, No. 3, 393.
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There are very few theorems in advanced analysis which have been demonstrated in a logically tenable manner. Everywhere one finds this miserable way of concluding from the special to the general and it is extremely peculiar that such a procedure has led to so few of the so-called paradoxes.
From letter to his professor Christoffer Hansteen (1826) in Oeuvres, 2, 263-65. In Morris Kline, Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times (1990), Vol. 3, 947.
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There is a finite number of species of plants and animals—even of insects—upon the earth. … Moreover, the universality of the genetic code, the common character of proteins in different species, the generality of cellular structure and cellular reproduction, the basic similarity of energy metabolism in all species and of photosynthesis in green plants and bacteria, and the universal evolution of living forms through mutation and natural selection all lead inescapably to a conclusion that, although diversity may be great, the laws of life, based on similarities, are finite in number and comprehensible to us in the main even now.
Presidential Address (28 Dec 1970) to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 'Science: Endless Horizons or Golden Age?', Science (8 Jan 1971), 171, No. 3866, 24.
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There is no royal road to learning. But it is equally an error to confine attention to technical processes, excluding consideration of general ideas. Here lies the road to pedantry.
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 8.
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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
In John Dryden (trans.), Life of Marcellus.
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These specimens, which I could easily multiply, may suffice to justify a profound distrust of Auguste Comte, wherever he may venture to speak as a mathematician. But his vast general ability, and that personal intimacy with the great Fourier, which I most willingly take his own word for having enjoyed, must always give an interest to his views on any subject of pure or applied mathematics.
In R. Graves, Life of W. R. Hamilton (1882-89), Vol. 3, 475.
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They are a fairly aggressive conservation organization that was started to protect the great whales particularly, but in general all marine life around the world. So those are the people I’m trying to attach my name to.
…...
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Thinking is merely the comparing of ideas, discerning relations of likeness and of difference between ideas, and drawing inferences. It is seizing general truths on the basis of clearly apprehended particulars. It is but generalizing and particularizing. Who will deny that a child can deal profitably with sequences of ideas like: How many marbles are 2 marbles and 3 marbles? 2 pencils and 3 pencils? 2 balls and 3 balls? 2 children and 3 children? 2 inches and 3 inches? 2 feet and 3 feet? 2 and 3? Who has not seen the countenance of some little learner light up at the end of such a series of questions with the exclamation, “Why it’s always that way. Isn’t it?” This is the glow of pleasure that the generalizing step always affords him who takes the step himself. This is the genuine life-giving joy which comes from feeling that one can successfully take this step. The reality of such a discovery is as great, and the lasting effect upon the mind of him that makes it is as sure as was that by which the great Newton hit upon the generalization of the law of gravitation. It is through these thrills of discovery that love to learn and intellectual pleasure are begotten and fostered. Good arithmetic teaching abounds in such opportunities.
In Arithmetic in Public Education (1909), 13. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 68.
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This formula [for computing Bernoulli’s numbers] was first given by James Bernoulli…. He gave no general demonstration; but was quite aware of the importance of his theorem, for he boasts that by means of it he calculated intra semi-quadrantem horæ! the sum of the 10th powers of the first thousand integers, and found it to be
91,409,924,241,424,243,424,241,924,242,500.

In 'Bernoulli’s Expression for ΣNr', Algebra, Vol. 2 (1879, 1889), 209. The ellipsis is for the reference (Ars Conjectandi (1713), 97). [The Latin phrase, “intra semi-quadrantem horæ!” refers to within a fraction of an hour. —Webmaster]
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This is really the cornerstone of our situation. Now, I believe what we should try to bring about is the general conviction that the first thing you have to abolish is war at all costs, and every other point of view must be of secondary importance.
…...
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This theme of mutually invisible life at widely differing scales bears an important implication for the ‘culture wars’ that supposedly now envelop our universities and our intellectual discourse in general ... One side of this false dichotomy features the postmodern relativists who argue that all culturally bound modes of perception must be equally valid, and that no factual truth therefore exists. The other side includes the benighted, old-fashioned realists who insist that flies truly have two wings, and that Shakespeare really did mean what he thought he was saying. The principle of scaling provides a resolution for the false parts of this silly dichotomy. Facts are facts and cannot be denied by any rational being. (Often, facts are also not at all easy to determine or specify–but this question raises different issues for another time.) Facts, however, may also be highly scale dependent–and the perceptions of one world may have no validity or expression in the domain of another. The one-page map of Maine cannot recognize the separate boulders of Acadia, but both provide equally valid representations of a factual coastline.
The World as I See It (1999)
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This [the fact that the pursuit of mathematics brings into harmonious action all the faculties of the human mind] accounts for the extraordinary longevity of all the greatest masters of the Analytic art, the Dii Majores of the mathematical Pantheon. Leibnitz lived to the age of 70; Euler to 76; Lagrange to 77; Laplace to 78; Gauss to 78; Plato, the supposed inventor of the conic sections, who made mathematics his study and delight, who called them the handles or aids to philosophy, the medicine of the soul, and is said never to have let a day go by without inventing some new theorems, lived to 82; Newton, the crown and glory of his race, to 85; Archimedes, the nearest akin, probably, to Newton in genius, was 75, and might have lived on to be 100, for aught we can guess to the contrary, when he was slain by the impatient and ill mannered sergeant, sent to bring him before the Roman general, in the full vigour of his faculties, and in the very act of working out a problem; Pythagoras, in whose school, I believe, the word mathematician (used, however, in a somewhat wider than its present sense) originated, the second founder of geometry, the inventor of the matchless theorem which goes by his name, the pre-cognizer of the undoubtedly mis-called Copernican theory, the discoverer of the regular solids and the musical canon who stands at the very apex of this pyramid of fame, (if we may credit the tradition) after spending 22 years studying in Egypt, and 12 in Babylon, opened school when 56 or 57 years old in Magna Græcia, married a young wife when past 60, and died, carrying on his work with energy unspent to the last, at the age of 99. The mathematician lives long and lives young; the wings of his soul do not early drop off, nor do its pores become clogged with the earthy particles blown from the dusty highways of vulgar life.
In Presidential Address to the British Association, Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2 (1908), 658.
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To derive two or three general Principles of Motion from Phænomena, and afterwards to tell us how the Properties and Actions of all corporeal Things follow from those manifest Principles, would be a very great step in Philosophy.
From 'Query 31', Opticks (1704, 2nd ed., 1718), 377.
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To emphasize this opinion that mathematicians would be unwise to accept practical issues as the sole guide or the chief guide in the current of their investigations, ... let me take one more instance, by choosing a subject in which the purely mathematical interest is deemed supreme, the theory of functions of a complex variable. That at least is a theory in pure mathematics, initiated in that region, and developed in that region; it is built up in scores of papers, and its plan certainly has not been, and is not now, dominated or guided by considerations of applicability to natural phenomena. Yet what has turned out to be its relation to practical issues? The investigations of Lagrange and others upon the construction of maps appear as a portion of the general property of conformal representation; which is merely the general geometrical method of regarding functional relations in that theory. Again, the interesting and important investigations upon discontinuous two-dimensional fluid motion in hydrodynamics, made in the last twenty years, can all be, and now are all, I believe, deduced from similar considerations by interpreting functional relations between complex variables. In the dynamics of a rotating heavy body, the only substantial extension of our knowledge since the time of Lagrange has accrued from associating the general properties of functions with the discussion of the equations of motion. Further, under the title of conjugate functions, the theory has been applied to various questions in electrostatics, particularly in connection with condensers and electrometers. And, lastly, in the domain of physical astronomy, some of the most conspicuous advances made in the last few years have been achieved by introducing into the discussion the ideas, the principles, the methods, and the results of the theory of functions. … the refined and extremely difficult work of Poincare and others in physical astronomy has been possible only by the use of the most elaborate developments of some purely mathematical subjects, developments which were made without a thought of such applications.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section A, (1897), Nature, 56, 377.
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To fully understand the mathematical genius of Sophus Lie, one must not turn to books recently published by him in collaboration with Dr. Engel, but to his earlier memoirs, written during the first years of his scientific career. There Lie shows himself the true geometer that he is, while in his later publications, finding that he was but imperfectly understood by the mathematicians accustomed to the analytic point of view, he adopted a very general analytic form of treatment that is not always easy to follow.
In Lectures on Mathematics (1911), 9.
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To generalize is to be an idiot. To particularize is the alone distinction of merit. General knowledges are those knowledges that idiots possess.
Annotations to Sir Joshua Reynolds, 'Discourse II', Discourses (c.1808), as given in Geoffrey Keynes, Complete Writings (1957).
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Today it is no longer questioned that the principles of the analysts are the more far-reaching. Indeed, the synthesists lack two things in order to engage in a general theory of algebraic configurations: these are on the one hand a definition of imaginary elements, on the other an interpretation of general algebraic concepts. Both of these have subsequently been developed in synthetic form, but to do this the essential principle of synthetic geometry had to be set aside. This principle which manifests itself so brilliantly in the theory of linear forms and the forms of the second degree, is the possibility of immediate proof by means of visualized constructions.
In Riemannsche Flächen (1906), Bd. 1, 234.
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We all know, from what we experience with and within ourselves, that our conscious acts spring from our desires and our fears. Intuition tells us that that is true also of our fellows and of the higher animals. We all try to escape pain and death, while we seek what is pleasant. We are all ruled in what we do by impulses; and these impulses are so organized that our actions in general serve for our self preservation and that of the race. Hunger, love, pain, fear are some of those inner forces which rule the individual’s instinct for self preservation. At the same time, as social beings, we are moved in the relations with our fellow beings by such feelings as sympathy, pride, hate, need for power, pity, and so on. All these primary impulses, not easily described in words, are the springs of man’s actions. All such action would cease if those powerful elemental forces were to cease stirring within us. Though our conduct seems so very different from that of the higher animals, the primary instincts are much alike in them and in us. The most evident difference springs from the important part which is played in man by a relatively strong power of imagination and by the capacity to think, aided as it is by language and other symbolical devices. Thought is the organizing factor in man, intersected between the causal primary instincts and the resulting actions. In that way imagination and intelligence enter into our existence in the part of servants of the primary instincts. But their intervention makes our acts to serve ever less merely the immediate claims of our instincts.
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We are apt to consider that invention is the result of spontaneous action of some heavenborn genius, whose advent we must patiently wait for, but cannot artificially produce. It is unquestionable, however, that education, legal enactments, and general social conditions have a stupendous influence on the development of the originative faculty present in a nation and determine whether it shall be a fountain of new ideas or become simply a purchaser from others of ready-made inventions.
Epigraph, without citation, in Roger Cullisin, Patents, Inventions and the Dynamics of Innovation: A Multidisciplinary Study (2007), ix.
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We have no knowledge, that is, no general principles drawn from the contemplation of particular facts, but what has been built up by pleasure, and exists in us by pleasure alone. The Man of Science, the Chemist and Mathematician, whatever difficulties and disgusts they may have had to struggle with, know and feel this. However painful may be the objects with which the Anatomist's knowledge is connected, he feels that his knowledge is pleasure; and where he has no pleasure he has no knowledge.
In Lyrical Ballads: With Pastoral and Other Poems (3rd Ed., 1802), Vol. 1, Preface, xxxiv.
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We’ll get to the details of what’s around here, but it looks like a collection of just about every variety of shape - angularity, granularity, about every variety of rock. The colors - well, there doesn’t appear to be too much of a general color at all; however, it looks as though some of the rocks and boulders [are] going to have some interesting colors to them. Over.
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When the mathematician says that such and such a proposition is true of one thing, it may be interesting, and it is surely safe. But when he tries to extend his proposition to everything, though it is much more interesting, it is also much more dangerous. In the transition from one to all, from the specific to the general, mathematics has made its greatest progress, and suffered its most serious setbacks, of which the logical paradoxes constitute the most important part. For, if mathematics is to advance securely and confidently, it must first set its affairs in order at home.
With co-author James R. Newman, in Mathematics and the Imagination (1940), 219.
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When we have amassed a great store of such general facts, they become the objects of another and higher species of classification, and are themselves included in laws which, as they dispose of groups, not individuals have a far superior degree of generality, till at length, by continuing the process, we arrive at axioms of the highest degree of generality of which science is capable. This process is what we mean by induction.
In A Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (1830), 102.
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When we meet a fact which contradicts a prevailing theory, we must accept the fact and abandon the theory, even when the theory is supported by great names and generally accepted.
From An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine (1865), as translated by Henry Copley Greene (reprint 1999), 164.
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Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.
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Whenever … a controversy arises in mathematics, the issue is not whether a thing is true or not, but whether the proof might not be conducted more simply in some other way, or whether the proposition demonstrated is sufficiently important for the advancement of the science as to deserve especial enunciation and emphasis, or finally, whether the proposition is not a special case of some other and more general truth which is as easily discovered.
In Mathematical Essays and Recreations (1898), 88.
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While the Mathematician is busy with deductions from general propositions, the Biologist is more especially occupied with observation, comparison, and those processes which lead to general propositions.
In 'On the Educational Value of the Natural History Sciences', Science and Education: Essays (1894), 57.
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Why then be concerned about the conservation of wildlife when for all practical purposes we would be much better off if humans and their domestic animals and pets were the only living creatures on the face of the earth? There is no obvious and demolishing answer to this rather doubtful logic although in practice the destruction of all wild animals would certainly bring devastating changes to our existence on this planet as we know it today...The trouble is that everything in nature is completely interdependent. Tinker with one part of it and the repercussions ripple out in all directions...Wildlife - and that includes everything from microbes to blue whales and from a fungus to a redwood tree - has been so much part of life on the earth that we are inclined to take its continued existence for granted...Yet the wildlife of the world is disappearing, not because of a malicious and deliberate policy of slaughter and extermination, but simply because of a general and widespread ignorance and neglect.
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You can prepare yourself for work. The paintings of the great masters, the compositions of great musicians, the sermons of great preachers, the policies of great statesmen, and the campaigns of great generals, do not spring full bloom from barren rock. … If you are a true student you will be more dissatisfied with yourself when you graduate than you are now.
From Cameron Prize Lecture (1928), delivered before the University of Edinburgh. As quoted in J.B. Collip 'Frederick Grant Banting, Discoverer of Insulin', The Scientific Monthly (May 1941), 52, No. 5, 473-474.
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You cannot do without one specialty. You must have some base-line to measure the work and attainments of others. For a general view of the subject, study the history of the sciences. Broad knowledge of all Nature has been the possession of no naturalist except Humboldt, and general relations constituted his specialty.
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 146.
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[In mathematics] we behold the conscious logical activity of the human mind in its purest and most perfect form. Here we learn to realize the laborious nature of the process, the great care with which it must proceed, the accuracy which is necessary to determine the exact extent of the general propositions arrived at, the difficulty of forming and comprehending abstract concepts; but here we learn also to place confidence in the certainty, scope and fruitfulness of such intellectual activity.
In Ueber das Verhältniss der Naturwissenschaften zur Gesammlheit der Wissenschaft, Vortrage und Reden (1896), Bd. 1, 176.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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- 10 -
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