Human Thought Quotes (7 quotes)
It is now necessary to indicate more definitely the reason why mathematics not only carries conviction in itself, but also transmits conviction to the objects to which it is applied. The reason is found, first of all, in the perfect precision with which the elementary mathematical concepts are determined; in this respect each science must look to its own salvation .... But this is not all. As soon as human thought attempts long chains of conclusions, or difficult matters generally, there arises not only the danger of error but also the suspicion of error, because since all details cannot be surveyed with clearness at the same instant one must in the end be satisfied with a belief that nothing has been overlooked from the beginning. Every one knows how much this is the case even in arithmetic, the most elementary use of mathematics. No one would imagine that the higher parts of mathematics fare better in this respect; on the contrary, in more complicated conclusions the uncertainty and suspicion of hidden errors increases in rapid progression. How does mathematics manage to rid itself of this inconvenience which attaches to it in the highest degree? By making proofs more rigorous? By giving new rules according to which the old rules shall be applied? Not in the least. A very great uncertainty continues to attach to the result of each single computation. But there are checks. In the realm of mathematics each point may be reached by a hundred different ways; and if each of a hundred ways leads to the same point, one may be sure that the right point has been reached. A calculation without a check is as good as none. Just so it is with every isolated proof in any speculative science whatever; the proof may be ever so ingenious, and ever so perfectly true and correct, it will still fail to convince permanently. He will therefore be much deceived, who, in metaphysics, or in psychology which depends on metaphysics, hopes to see his greatest care in the precise determination of the concepts and in the logical conclusions rewarded by conviction, much less by success in transmitting conviction to others. Not only must the conclusions support each other, without coercion or suspicion of subreption, but in all matters originating in experience, or judging concerning experience, the results of speculation must be verified by experience, not only superficially, but in countless special cases.
Nobody, certainly, will deny that the idea of the existence of an omnipotent, just, and omnibeneficent personal God is able to accord man solace, help, and guidance; also, by virtue of its simplicity it is accessible to the most undeveloped mind. But, on the other hand, there are decisive weaknesses attached to this idea in its elf, which have been painfully felt since the beginning of history. That is, if this being is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought, and every human feeling and aspiration is also His work; how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an almighty Being? In giving out punishment and rewards He would to a certain extent be passing judgment on Himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him?
Perhaps the most surprising thing about mathematics is that it is so surprising. The rules which we make up at the beginning seem ordinary and inevitable, but it is impossible to foresee their consequences. These have only been found out by long study, extending over many centuries. Much of our knowledge is due to a comparatively few great mathematicians such as Newton, Euler, Gauss, or Riemann; few careers can have been more satisfying than theirs. They have contributed something to human thought even more lasting than great literature, since it is independent of language.
The great upheavals which precede changes of civilisation, such as the fall of the Roman Empire and the founding of the Arabian Empire, for example, seem to have been determined mainly by considerable political transformations, invasions, or the overthrow of dynasties. But … most often, the real cause is … a profound modification in the ideas of the peoples. … The memorable events of history are the visible effects of the invisible changes of human thought. … The present epoch is one of these critical moments in which the thought of mankind is undergoing a process of transformation.
The mathematician has reached the highest rung on the ladder of human thought.
The teaching process, as commonly observed, has nothing to do with the investigation and establishment of facts, assuming that actual facts may ever be determined. Its sole purpose is to cram the pupils, as rapidly and as painlessly as possible, with the largest conceivable outfit of current axioms, in all departments of human thought—to make the pupil a good citizen, which is to say, a citizen differing as little as possible, in positive knowledge and habits of mind, from all other citizens.
There are … two fields for human thought and action—the actual and the possible, the realized and the real. In the actual, the tangible, the realized, the vast proportion of mankind abide. The great, region of the possible, whence all discovery, invention, creation proceed, and which is to the actual as a universe to a planet, is the chosen region of genius. As almost every thing which is now actual was once only possible, as our present facts and axioms were originally inventions or discoveries, it is, under God, to genius that we owe our present blessings. In the past, it created the present; in the present, it is creating the future.