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Mathematics Quotes (1027 quotes)
Math Quotes, Maths Quotes, Mathematical Quotes, Mathematick Quotes

Godfrey Harold Hardy quote “Languages die and mathematical ideas do not.”
background by Tom_Brown 6117, CC by 2.0 (source)

...the source of all great mathematics is the special case, the concrete example. It is frequent in mathematics that every instance of a concept of seemingly generality is, in essence, the same as a small and concrete special case.
I Want to be a Mathematician: an Automathography in Three Parts (1985), 324.
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Apud me omnia fiunt Mathematicè in Natura
In my opinion, everything happens in nature in a mathematical way.
In letter (11 Mar 1640) to Père Marin Mersenne. English version inspired by a translation of the original Latin in German, “Nach meiner Ansicht geschieht alles in der Natur auf mathematische Art,” in René Descartes and Artur Buchenau (trans., ed.), René Descartes' Philosophische Werke (1905), 246. The Latin is often seen misquoted as “omnia apud me mathematica fiunt.” See context in longer quote that begins, “I have no doubt….” on the René Descartes Quotes page of this website.
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Ces détails scientifiques qui effarouchent les fabricans d’un certain âge, ne seront qu’un jeu pour leurs enfans, quand ils auront apprit dans leurs collèges un peu plus de mathématiques et un peu moins de Latin; un peu plus de Chimie, et un peu moins de Grec!
The scientific details which now terrify the adult manufacturer will be mere trifles to his children when they shall be taught at school, a little more Mathematics and a little less Latin, a little more Chemistry, and a little less Greek.
As quoted in 'Sketches From Life of Some Eminent Foreign Scientific Lecturers: Dumas', Magazine of Popular Science, and Journal of the Useful Arts (1836). Vol. 1, 177.
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C’est donc par l’étude des mathématiques, et seulement par elle, que l’on peut se faire une idée juste et approfondie de ce que c’est qu’une science. … Toute éducation scientifique qui ne commence point par une telle étude pèche donc nécessairement par sa base.
It is therefore through the study of mathematics, and only by it, that one can form a fair and comprehensive idea of what science is. … Any scientific education which does not begin with such a study, necessarily is fundamentally flawed.
Original French in Cours de Philosophie Positive (1830), Vol. 1, 132. English version by Webmaster using online resources. Comte believed in a hierarchy of the sciences, ordered by degree of generality and simplicity of their ideas. Mathematics he placed first, followed by astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, and sociology in the sixth and last place. This quote was included by T.H. Huxley, in 'The Scientific Aspects of Positivism', Fortnightly Review (1869), 11, 666-667, in which Huxley strongly disagreed with ranking the abstract discipline of mathematics at the top, since education should begin with the concrete based on investigation by observation, “from the easy to the difficult.”
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Das ist nicht Mathematik, das ist Theologie!
This is not mathematics; this is theology.
[Remark about David Hilbert's first proof of his finite basis theorem.]
Attributed. It does not seem to appear in Gordan’s written work. According to Colin McClarty, in 'Theology and its Discontents: the Origin of the Myth of Modern Mathematics' (2008), “The quote first appeared a quarter of a century after the event, as an unexplained side comment in a eulogy to Gordan by his long-time colleague Max Noether. Noether was a reliable witness, but he says little about what Gordan meant.” See Noether's obituary of Gordan in Mathematische Annalen (1914), 75, 18. It is still debated if the quote is pejorative, complimentary or merely a joke.
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Das Leben der Gotter ist Mathematik.
Mathematics is the Life of the Gods.
Attributed.
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Every teacher certainly should know something of non-euclidean geometry. Thus, it forms one of the few parts of mathematics which, at least in scattered catch-words, is talked about in wide circles, so that any teacher may be asked about it at any moment. ... Imagine a teacher of physics who is unable to say anything about Röntgen rays, or about radium. A teacher of mathematics who could give no answer to questions about non-euclidean geometry would not make a better impression.
On the other hand, I should like to advise emphatically against bringing non-euclidean into regular school instruction (i.e., beyond occasional suggestions, upon inquiry by interested pupils), as enthusiasts are always recommending. Let us be satisfied if the preceding advice is followed and if the pupils learn to really understand euclidean geometry. After all, it is in order for the teacher to know a little more than the average pupil.
In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 72.
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Je me rends parfaitement compte du desagreable effet que produit sur la majorite de l'humanité, tout ce qui se rapporte, même au plus faible dègré, á des calculs ou raisonnements mathematiques.
I am well aware of the disagreeable effect produced on the majority of humanity, by whatever relates, even at the slightest degree to calculations or mathematical reasonings.
From 'French Reply to Baron Czyllak' concerning the game at Monte Carlo, Monte Carlo Facts and Fallacies (1904), 290, originally published in L'Écho de la Mediterranée as a response to an earlier open letter by the Baron in the same magazine. Maxim defended his prior mathematical calculations about gambling games. At the end of his paper giving a cautionary mathematical analysis of 'The Gambler's Ruin', < a href="http://todayinsci.com/C/Coolidge_Julian/CoolidgeJulian-Quotations.htm">Julian Coolidge referenced this quotation, saying “it gives the best explanation which I have seen for the fact that the people continue to gamble.”
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L'analyse mathématique, n'est elle donc qu'un vain jeu d'esprit? Elle ne peut pas donner au physicien qu'un langage commode; n'est-ce pa là un médiocre service, dont on aurait pu se passer à la rigueur; et même n'est il pas à craindre que ce langage artificiel ne soit pas un voile interposé entre la réalité at l'oeil du physicien? Loin de là, sans ce langage, la pluspart des anaologies intimes des choses nous seraient demeurées à jamais inconnues; et nous aurions toujours ignoré l'harmonie interne du monde, qui est, nous le verrons, la seule véritable réalité objective.
So is not mathematical analysis then not just a vain game of the mind? To the physicist it can only give a convenient language; but isn't that a mediocre service, which after all we could have done without; and, it is not even to be feared that this artificial language be a veil, interposed between reality and the physicist's eye? Far from that, without this language most of the initimate analogies of things would forever have remained unknown to us; and we would never have had knowledge of the internal harmony of the world, which is, as we shall see, the only true objective reality.
La valeur de la science. In Anton Bovier, Statistical Mechanics of Disordered Systems (2006), 6.
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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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Les mathématique sont un triple. Elles doivent fournir un instrument pour l'étude de la nature. Mais ce n'est pas tout: elles ont un but philosophique et, j'ose le dire, un but esthétique.
Mathematics has a threefold purpose. It must provide an instrument for the study of nature. But this is not all: it has a philosophical purpose, and, I daresay, an aesthetic purpose.
La valeur de la science. In Anton Bovier, Statistical Mechanics of Disordered Systems (2006), 161.
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Longtemps les objets dont s'occupent les mathématiciens étaient our la pluspart mal définis; on croyait les connaître, parce qu'on se les représentatit avec le sens ou l'imagination; mais on n'en avait qu'une image grossière et non une idée précise sure laquelle le raisonment pût avoir prise.
For a long time the objects that mathematicians dealt with were mostly ill-defined; one believed one knew them, but one represented them with the senses and imagination; but one had but a rough picture and not a precise idea on which reasoning could take hold.
La valeur de la science. In Anton Bovier, Statistical Mechanics of Disordered Systems (2006), 97.
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Mathematical Knowledge adds a manly Vigour to the Mind, frees it from Prejudice, Credulity, and Superstition.
On the Usefulness of Mathematical Learning, (3rd Ed., 1745), 7.
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Mathematical truth has validity independent of place, personality, or human authority. Mathematical relations are not established, nor can they be abrogated, by edict. The multiplication table is international and permanent, not a matter of convention nor of relying upon authority of state or church. The value of π is not amenable to human caprice. The finding of a mathematical theorem may have been a highly romantic episode in the personal life of the discoverer, but it cannot be expected of itself to reveal the race, sex, or temperament of this discoverer. With modern means of widespread communication even mathematical notation tends to be international despite all nationalistic tendencies in the use of words or of type.
Anonymous
In 'Light Thrown on the Nature of Mathematics by Certain Aspects of Its Development', Mathematics in General Education (1940), 256. This is the Report of the Committee on the Function of Mathematics in General Education of the Commission on Secondary School Curriculum, which was established by the Executive Board of the Progressive Education Association in 1932.
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Natura non facit saltum or, Nature does not make leaps… If you assume continuity, you can open the well-stocked mathematical toolkit of continuous functions and differential equations, the saws and hammers of engineering and physics for the past two centuries (and the foreseeable future).
From Benoit B. Mandelbrot and Richard Hudson, The (Mis)Behaviour of Markets: A Fractal View of Risk, Ruin and Reward (2004,2010), 85-86.
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Neumann, to a physicist seeking help with a difficult problem: Simple. This can be solved by using the method of characteristics.
Physicist: I'm afraid I don’t understand the method of characteristics.
Neumann: In mathematics you don't understand things. You just get used to them.
Attributed, as related by Dr. Felix Smith (Head of Molecular Physics, Stanford Research Institute) to author Gary Zukav, who quoted it in The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics (1979, 2001), 208, footnote. The physicist (a friend of Dr. Smith) worked at Los Alamos after WW II. It should be noted that although the author uses quotation marks around the spoken remarks, that they represent the author's memory of Dr. Smith's recollection, who heard it from the physicist. Therefore the fourth-hand wording is very likely not verbatim. Webmaster finds Zukav's book seems to be the only source for this quote.
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Simplicibus itaque verbis gaudet Mathematica Veritas, cum etiam per se simplex sit Veritatis oratio. (So Mathematical Truth prefers simple words since the language of Truth is itself simple.)
Epistolarum astronomicarum liber primus (1596)
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The Annotated Alice, of course, does tie in with math, because Lewis Carroll was, as you know, a professional mathematician. So it wasn’t really too far afield from recreational math, because the two books are filled with all kinds of mathematical jokes. I was lucky there in that I really didn’t have anything new to say in The Annotated Alice because I just looked over the literature and pulled together everything in the form of footnotes. But it was a lucky idea because that’s been the best seller of all my books.
In Anthony Barcellos, 'A Conversation with Martin Gardner', The Two-Year College Mathematics Journal (Sep 1979), 10, No. 4, 241.
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Tous les effets de la nature ne sont que résultats mathématiques d'un petit noinbre de lois immuables.
All the effects of Nature are only the mathematical consequences of a small number of immutable laws.
From the original French in Oeuvres de Laplace, Vol. VII: Théorie des probabilités (1847), Introduction, cliv.
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Tout le monde convient maintenant qu’une Physique d’où l'on banniroit tout ce qui peut avoir quelque rapport avec les mathématiques, pour se borner à un simple recueil d’observations & d’experiences, ne seroit qu’un amusement historique, plus propre à récréer un cercle de personnes oisives, qu’à occuper un esprit véritablement philosophique.
Everyone now agrees that a Physics where you banish all relationship with mathematics, to confine itself to a mere collection of experiences and observations, would be but an historical amusement, more fitting to entertain idle people, than to engage the mind of a true philosopher.
In Dictionnaire de Physique (1781), Vol. 8, 209. English version via Google Translate, tweaked by Webmaster. Also seen translated as—“Everyone now agrees that a physics lacking all connection with mathematics…would only be an historical amusement, fitter for entertaining the idle than for occupying the mind of a philosopher”—in John L. Heilbron, Electricity in the 17th and 18th centuries: A Study of Early Modern Physics (1979), 74. In the latter source, the subject quote immediately follows a different one by Franz Karl Achard. An editor misreading that paragraph is the likely reason the subject quote will be found in Oxford Dictionary of Science Quotations attributed to Achard. Webmaster checked the original footnoted source, and corrected the author of this entry to Paulian (16 May 2014).
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Une intelligence qui, pour un instant donné, connaîtrait toutes les forces dont la nature est animée, et la situation respective des êtres qui la composent, si d’ailleurs elle était assez vaste pour soumettre ces données a l’analyse, embrasserait dans la même formula les mouvements des plus grand corps de l’univers et ceux du plus léger atome: rien ne serait incertain pour elle, et l’avenir comme le passé serait présent à ses yeux.
Given for one instant an intelligence which could comprehend all the forces by which nature is animated and the respective situation of the beings which compose it—an intelligence sufficiently vast to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in the same formula the movements of the greatest bodies in the universe and those of the lightest atom; to it nothing would be uncertain, and the future as the past would be present to its eyes.
Introduction to Oeuvres vol. VII, Theorie Analytique de Probabilites (1812-1820). As translated by Frederick Wilson Truscott and Frederick Lincoln Emory in A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1902), 4. [LaPlace is here expressing his belief in causal determinism.]
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A chemist who does not know mathematics is seriously handicapped.
Quoted in Albert Rosenfeld, Langmuir: The Man and the Scientist (1962), 293.
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A chess problem is genuine mathematics, but it is in some way “trivial” mathematics. However, ingenious and intricate, however original and surprising the moves, there is something essential lacking. Chess problems are unimportant. The best mathematics is serious as well as beautiful—“important” if you like, but the word is very ambiguous, and “serious” expresses what I mean much better.
'A Mathematician's Apology', in James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (2000), 2029.
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A formal manipulator in mathematics often experiences the discomforting feeling that his pencil surpasses him in intelligence.
In An Introduction to the History of Mathematics (1953, 1976), 354. This same idea was said much earlier by Ernst Mach (1893). See the quote that begins, “The mathematician who pursues his studies,” on the Ernst Mach Quotes page on this website.
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A fractal is a mathematical set or concrete object that is irregular or fragmented at all scales.
Cited as from Fractals: Form, Chance, and Dimension (1977), by J.W. Cannon, in review of The Fractal Geometry of Nature (1982) in The American Mathematical Monthly (Nov 1984), 91, No. 9, 594.
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A good deal of my research in physics has consisted in not setting out to solve some particular problem, but simply examining mathematical quantities of a kind that physicists use and trying to fit them together in an interesting way, regardless of any application that the work may have. It is simply a search for pretty mathematics. It may turn out later to have an application. Then one has good luck. At age 78.
International Journal of Theoretical Physics (1982), 21, 603. In A. Pais, 'Playing With Equations, the Dirac Way'. Behram N. Kursunoglu (Ed.) and Eugene Paul Wigner (Ed.), Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac: Reminiscences about a Great Physicist (1990), 110.
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A good mathematical joke is better, and better mathematics, than a dozen mediocre papers.
In A Mathematician’s Miscellany (1953), reissued as Béla Bollobás, Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 24.
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A good theoretical physicist today might find it useful to have a wide range of physical viewpoints and mathematical expressions of the same theory (for example, of quantum electrodynamics) available to him. This may be asking too much of one man. Then new students should as a class have this. If every individual student follows the same current fashion in expressing and thinking about electrodynamics or field theory, then the variety of hypotheses being generated to understand strong interactions, say, is limited. Perhaps rightly so, for possibly the chance is high that the truth lies in the fashionable direction. But, on the off-chance that it is in another direction—a direction obvious from an unfashionable view of field theory—who will find it?
In his Nobel Prize Lecture (11 Dec 1965), 'The Development of the Space-Time View of Quantum Electrodynamics'. Collected in Stig Lundqvist, Nobel Lectures: Physics, 1963-1970 (1998), 177.
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A great deal of my work is just playing with equations and seeing what they give.
Quoted in Frank Wilczek, ',The Dirac Equation'. Proceedings of the Dirac Centennial Symposium (2003), 45.
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A great man, [who] was convinced that the truths of political and moral science are capable of the same certainty as those that form the system of physical science, even in those branches like astronomy that seem to approximate mathematical certainty.
He cherished this belief, for it led to the consoling hope that humanity would inevitably make progress toward a state of happiness and improved character even as it has already done in its knowledge of the truth.
Describing administrator and economist Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot in Essai sur l’application de l’analyse à la probabilité des décisions rendues à la pluralité des voix (1785), i. Cited epigraph in Charles Coulston Gillispie, Science and Polity in France: The End of the Old Regime (2004), 3
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A great part of its [higher arithmetic] theories derives an additional charm from the peculiarity that important propositions, with the impress of simplicity on them, are often easily discovered by induction, and yet are of so profound a character that we cannot find the demonstrations till after many vain attempts; and even then, when we do succeed, it is often by some tedious and artificial process, while the simple methods may long remain concealed.
Quoted in H. Eves, Mathematical Circles (1977) .
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A large part of mathematics which becomes useful developed with absolutely no desire to be useful, and in a situation where nobody could possibly know in what area it would become useful; and there were no general indications that it ever would be so.
From Address (1954) to Princeton Alumni, 'The Role of Mathematics in the Sciences and in Society', published in A.H. Taub (ed.), John von Neumann: Collected Works (1963), Vol. 6, 489. As quoted and cited in Rosemary Schmalz,Out of the Mouths of Mathematicians: A Quotation Book for Philomaths (1993), 123.
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A large part of the training of the engineer, civil and military, as far as preparatory studies are concerned; of the builder of every fabric of wood or stone or metal designed to stand upon the earth, or bridge the stream, or resist or float upon the wave; of the surveyor who lays out a building lot in a city, or runs a boundary line between powerful governments across a continent; of the geographer, navigator, hydrographer, and astronomer,—must be derived from the mathematics.
In 'Academical Education', Orations and Speeches on Various Occasions (1870), Vol. 3, 513.
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A marveilous newtrality have these things mathematicall, and also a strange participation between things supernaturall, immortall, intellectuall, simple and indivisible, and things naturall, mortall, sensible, componded and divisible.
John Dee
In Mathematicall Praeface to the Elements of Geometrie of Euclid of Megara (1570).
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A mathematical argument is, after all, only organized common sense, and it is well that men of science should not always expound their work to the few behind a veil of technical language, but should from time to time explain to a larger public the reasoning which lies behind their mathematical notation.
In The Tides and Kindred Phenomena in the Solar System: The Substance of Lectures Delivered in 1897 at the Lowell Institute, Boston, Massachusetts (1898), Preface, v. Preface
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A mathematical point is the most indivisble and unique thing which art can present.
Letters, 21. 1817. In Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica (1914), 295.
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A mathematical problem should be difficult in order to entice us, yet not completely inaccessible, lest it mock at our efforts. It should be to us a guide post on the mazy paths to hidden truths, and ultimately a reminder of our pleasure in the successful solution.
In Mathematical Problems', Bulletin American Mathematical Society, 8, 438.
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A mathematical proof should resemble a simple and clear-cut constellation, not a scattered cluster in the Milky Way.
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, 2012), 113.
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A mathematical theory is not to be considered complete until you have made it so clear that you can explain it to the first man whom you meet on the street.
…...
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A mathematical truth is timeless, it does not come into being when we discover it. Yet its discovery is a very real event, it may be an emotion like a great gift from a fairy.
…...
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A mind is accustomed to mathematical deduction, when confronted with the faulty foundations of astrology, resists a long, long time, like an obstinate mule, until compelled by beating and curses to put its foot into that dirty puddle.
As quoted in Arthur Koestler, The Sleep Walkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), 243, citing De Stella Nova in Pede Serpentarii (1606).
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A modern branch of mathematics, having achieved the art of dealing with the infinitely small, can now yield solutions in other more complex problems of motion, which used to appear insoluble. This modern branch of mathematics, unknown to the ancients, when dealing with problems of motion, admits the conception of the infinitely small, and so conforms to the chief condition of motion (absolute continuity) and thereby corrects the inevitable error which the human mind cannot avoid when dealing with separate elements of motion instead of examining continuous motion. In seeking the laws of historical movement just the same thing happens. The movement of humanity, arising as it does from innumerable human wills, is continuous. To understand the laws of this continuous movement is the aim of history. … Only by taking an infinitesimally small unit for observation (the differential of history, that is, the individual tendencies of man) and attaining to the art of integrating them (that is, finding the sum of these infinitesimals) can we hope to arrive at the laws of history.
War and Peace (1869), Book 11, Chap. 1.
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A modern mathematical proof is not very different from a modern machine, or a modern test setup: the simple fundamental principles are hidden and almost invisible under a mass of technical details.
Unterrichtsblätter für Mathematik und Naturwissenschaften (1932), 38, 177-188. As translated by Abe Shenitzer, in 'Part I. Topology and Abstract Algebra as Two Roads of Mathematical Comprehension', The American Mathematical Monthly (May 1995), 102, No. 7, 453.
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A professor … may be to produce a perfect mathematical work of art, having every axiom stated, every conclusion drawn with flawless logic, the whole syllabus covered. This sounds excellent, but in practice the result is often that the class does not have the faintest idea of what is going on. … The framework is lacking; students do not know where the subject fits in, and this has a paralyzing effect on the mind.
In A Concrete Approach to Abstract Algebra (1959), 1-2.
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A surprising proportion of mathematicians are accomplished musicians. Is it because music and mathematics share patterns that are beautiful?
In 'Introduction' contributed to Donald J. Albers and Gerald L. Alexanderson, More Mathematical People: Contemporary Conversations (1990), xi.
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A teacher of mathematics has a great opportunity. If he fills his allotted time with drilling his students in routine operations he kills their interest, hampers their intellectual development, and misuses his opportunity. But if he challenges the curiosity of his students by setting them problems proportionate to their knowledge, and helps them to solve their problems with stimulating questions, he may give them a taste for, and some means of, independent thinking.
In How to Solve It (1948), Preface.
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A theory with mathematical beauty is more likely to be correct than an ugly one that fits some experimental data. God is a mathematician of a very high order, and He used very advanced mathematics in constructing the universe.
In Scientific American (May 1963). As quoted and cited in The Hutchinson Encyclopedia of Science (1998), 468.
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A thing is obvious mathematically after you see it.
Used as a filler, referring to Dean R.D. Carmichael, in Franz E. Hohn (ed.), Pi Mu Epsilon Journal (Fall 1956), 2, No. 5, 224. Carmichael was Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Illinois, from 1933 to his retirement in 1947. The journal was published at the University of Illinois. Webmaster has not yet found an earlier or primary source (can you help?) but would not rule out the quote being passed down by oral tradition at the university.
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A troubling question for those of us committed to the widest application of intelligence in the study and solution of the problems of men is whether a general understanding of the social sciences will be possible much longer. Many significant areas of these disciplines have already been removed by the advances of the past two decades beyond the reach of anyone who does not know mathematics; and the man of letters is increasingly finding, to his dismay, that the study of mankind proper is passing from his hands to those of technicians and specialists. The aesthetic effect is admittedly bad: we have given up the belletristic “essay on man” for the barbarisms of a technical vocabulary, or at best the forbidding elegance of mathematical syntax.
Opening paragraph of 'The Study of Man: Sociology Learns the Language of Mathematics' in Commentary (1 Sep 1952). Reprinted in James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 2, 1294.
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About the year 1821, I undertook to superintend, for the Government, the construction of an engine for calculating and printing mathematical and astronomical tables. Early in the year 1833, a small portion of the machine was put together, and was found to perform its work with all the precision which had been anticipated. At that period circumstances, which I could not control, caused what I then considered a temporary suspension of its progress; and the Government, on whose decision the continuance or discontinuance of the work depended, have not yet communicated to me their wishes on the question.
In The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise: A Fragment (1838), 186.
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Abstractness, sometimes hurled as a reproach at mathematics, is its chief glory and its surest title to practical usefulness. It is also the source of such beauty as may spring from mathematics.
In 'General Prospectus', The Development of Mathematics (1940, 2017), Chap. 1, 9.
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Abstruse mathematical researches … are … often abused for having no obvious physical application. The fact is that the most useful parts of science have been investigated for the sake of truth, and not for their usefulness. A new branch of mathematics, which has sprung up in the last twenty years, was denounced by the Astronomer Royal before the University of Cambridge as doomed to be forgotten, on account of its uselessness. Now it turns out that the reason why we cannot go further in our investigations of molecular action is that we do not know enough of this branch of mathematics.
In 'Conditions of Mental Development', Lectures and Essays (1901), Vol. 1, 115.
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After an honest day’s work a mathematician goes off duty. Mathematics is very hard work, and dons tend to be above average in health and vigor. Below a certain threshold a man cracks up; but above it, hard mental work makes for health and vigor (also—on much historical evidence throughout the ages—for longevity). I have noticed lately that when I am working really hard I wake around 5.30 a.m. ready and eager to start; if I am slack, I sleep till I am called.
In 'The Mathematician’s Art of Work' (1967), collected in Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 195.
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All science as it grows toward perfection becomes mathematical in its ideas.
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 14. This is part of a longer quote that begins, “In modern times the belief that the ultimate explanation…”, on the Alfred North Whitehead Quotes page of this website.
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All science requires mathematics.
[Editors' summary of Bacon's idea, not Bacon's wording.]
These are not the exact words of Roger Bacon, but are from an editor's sub-heading, giving a summary for the topic of Chapter 2, for example, in Roger Bacon and Robert Belle Burke (ed.), Opus Maius (reproduction 2002), Vol. 1, Part 4, 117. Part 4 is devoted to a discourse on Mathematics. In its Chapter 1, as translated, Bacon states that 'There are four great sciences, without which the other sciences cannot be known nor a knowledge of things secured. ... Of these sciences the gate and key is mathematics.'
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All the events which occur upon the earth result from Law: even those actions which are entirely dependent on the caprices of the memory, or the impulse of the passions, are shown by statistics to be, when taken in the gross, entirely independent of the human will. As a single atom, man is an enigma; as a whole, he is a mathematical problem. As an individual, he is a free agent; as a species, the offspring of necessity.
In The Martyrdom of Man (1876), 185-186.
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All the mathematical sciences are founded on relations between physical laws and laws of numbers, so that the aim of exact science is to reduce the problems of nature to the determination of quantities by operations with numbers.
from Faraday's Lines of Force (1856)
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All the sciences have a relation, greater or less, to human nature; and...however wide any of them may seem to run from it, they still return back by one passage or another. Even Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, and Natural Religion, are in some measure dependent on the science of MAN; since they lie under the cognizance of men, and are judged of by their powers and faculties.
A Treatise on Human Nature (1739-40), ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge (1888), introduction, xix.
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All the truths of mathematics are linked to each other, and all means of discovering them are equally admissible.
In article by Jean Itard, 'Legendre, Adrien-Marie', in Charles Coulston Gillespie (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1973), Vol. 8, 142.
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All things began in Order, so shall they end, and so shall they begin again, according to the Ordainer of Order, and the mystical mathematicks of the City of Heaven.
In 'Garden of Cyrus', Religio Medici and Other Writings (1909), 229.
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Almost everything, which the mathematics of our century has brought forth in the way of original scientific ideas, attaches to the name of Gauss.
In Zahlentheorie, Teil 1 (1901), 43.
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Although I was four years at the University [of Wisconsin], I did not take the regular course of studies, but instead picked out what I thought would be most useful to me, particularly chemistry, which opened a new world, mathematics and physics, a little Greek and Latin, botany and and geology. I was far from satisfied with what I had learned, and should have stayed longer.
[Enrolled in Feb 1861, left in 1863 without completing a degree, and began his first botanical foot journey.]
John Muir
The Story of My Boyhood and Youth (1913), 286.
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Among the minor, yet striking characteristics of mathematics, may be mentioned the fleshless and skeletal build of its propositions; the peculiar difficulty, complication, and stress of its reasonings; the perfect exactitude of its results; their broad universality; their practical infallibility.
In Charles S. Peirce, ‎Charles Hartshorne (ed.), ‎Paul Weiss (ed.), Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce (1931), Vol. 4, 197.
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An announcement of [Christopher] Zeeman’s lecture at Northwestern University in the spring of 1977 contains a quote describing catastrophe theory as the most important development in mathematics since the invention of calculus 300 years ago.
In book review of Catastrophe Theory: Collected Papers, 1972-1977, in Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (Nov 1978), 84, No. 6, 1360. Reprinted in Stephen Smale, Roderick Wong(ed.), The Collected Papers of Stephen Smale (2000), Vol. 2, 814.
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An astronomer must be the wisest of men; his mind must be duly disciplined in youth; especially is mathematical study necessary; both an acquaintance with the doctrine of number, and also with that other branch of mathematics, which, closely connected as it is with the science of the heavens, we very absurdly call geometry, the measurement of the earth.
Plato
From the 'Epilogue to the Laws' (Epinomis), 988-990. As quoted in William Whewell, History of the Inductive Sciences from the Earliest to the Present Time (1837), Vol. 1, 161. (Although referenced to Plato’s Laws, the Epinomis is regarded as a later addition, not by Plato himself.)
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An essential [of an inventor] is a logical mind that sees analogies. No! No! not mathematical. No man of a mathematical habit of mind ever invented anything that amounted to much. He hasn’t the imagination to do it. He sticks too close to the rules, and to the things he is mathematically sure he knows, to create anything new.
As quoted in French Strother, 'The Modern Profession of Inventing', World's Work and Play (Jul 1905), 6, No. 32, 187.
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An old French geometer used to say that a mathematical theory was never to be considered complete till you had made it so clear that you could explain it to the first man you met in the street.
In Nature (1873), 8, 458.
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And as for Mixed Mathematics, I may only make this prediction, that there cannot fail to be more kinds of them, as nature grows further disclosed.
In Advancement of Learning (1605), Book 2. Collected in The Works of Francis Bacon (1765), Vol. 1, 61.
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And having thus passed the principles of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and geography, with a general compact of physics, they may descend in mathematics to the instrumental science of trigonometry, and from thence to fortification, architecture, engineering, or navigation. And in natural philosophy they may proceed leisurely from the history of meteors, minerals, plants, and living creatures, as far as anatomy. Then also in course might be read to them out of some not tedious writer the institution of physic. … To set forward all these proceedings in nature and mathematics, what hinders but that they may procure, as oft as shall be needful, the helpful experiences of hunters, fowlers, fishermen, shepherds, gardeners, apothecaries; and in other sciences, architects, engineers, mariners, anatomists.
In John Milton and Robert Fletcher (ed.), 'On Education', The Prose Works of John Milton: With an Introductory Review (1834), 100.
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Angling may be said to be so like the Mathematics that it can never be fully learnt; at least not so fully but that there will still be more new experiments left for the trial of other men that succeed us.
In The Complete Angler (1653, 1915), 7.
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Another advantage of a mathematical statement is that it is so definite that it might be definitely wrong; and if it is found to be wrong, there is a plenteous choice of amendments ready in the mathematicians’ stock of formulae. Some verbal statements have not this merit; they are so vague that they could hardly be wrong, and are correspondingly useless.
From 'Mathematics of War and Foreign Politics', in James R. Newman, The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 2, 1248.
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Another characteristic of mathematical thought is that it can have no success where it cannot generalize.
In Eberhard Zeidler, Applied Functional Analysis: main principles and their applications (1995), 282.
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Another diversity of Methods is according to the subject or matter which is handled; for there is a great difference in delivery of the Mathematics, which are the most abstracted of knowledges, and Policy, which is the most immersed ... , yet we see how that opinion, besides the weakness of it, hath been of ill desert towards learning, as that which taketh the way to reduce learning to certain empty and barren generalities; being but the very husks and shells of sciences, all the kernel being forced out and expulsed with the torture and press of the method.
Advancement of Learning, Book 2. In James Spedding, The Works of Francis Bacon (1863), Vol. 6, 292-293 . Peter Pešić, explains that 'By Mathematics, he had in mind a sterile and rigid scheme of logical classifications, called dichotomies in his time,' inLabyrinth: A Search for the Hidden Meaning of Science (2001), 73.
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Another great and special excellence of mathematics is that it demands earnest voluntary exertion. It is simply impossible for a person to become a good mathematician by the happy accident of having been sent to a good school; this may give him a preparation and a start, but by his own individual efforts alone can he reach an eminent position.
In Conflict of Studies (1873), 2.
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Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best he is a tolerable subhuman who has learned to wear shoes, bathe and not make messes in the house
In Time Enough for Love: The Lives of Lazarus Long (1987), 247.

Anyone who has had actual contact with the making of the inventions that built the radio art knows that these inventions have been the product of experiment and work based on physical reasoning, rather than on the mathematicians' calculations and formulae. Precisely the opposite impression is obtained from many of our present day text books and publications.
Attributed.
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Anything at all that can be the object of scientific thought becomes dependent on the axiomatic method, and thereby indirectly on mathematics, as soon as it is ripe for the formation of a theory. By pushing ahead to ever deeper layers of axioms … we become ever more conscious of the unity of our knowledge. In the sign of the axiomatic method, mathematics is summoned to a leading role in science.
Address (11 Sep 1917), 'Axiomatisches Denken' delivered before the Swiss Mathematical Society in Zürich. Translated by Ewald as 'Axiomatic Thought', (1918), in William Bragg Ewald, From Kant to Hilbert (1996), Vol. 2, 1115.
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Archimedes will be remembered when Aeschylus is forgotten, because languages die and mathematical ideas do not. “Immortality” may be a silly word, but probably a mathematician has the best chance of whatever it may mean.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 81.
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Archimedes, who combined a genius for mathematics with a physical insight, must rank with Newton, who lived nearly two thousand years later, as one of the founders of mathematical physics. … The day (when having discovered his famous principle of hydrostatics he ran through the streets shouting Eureka! Eureka!) ought to be celebrated as the birthday of mathematical physics; the science came of age when Newton sat in his orchard.
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 37.
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Arithmetically speaking, rabbits multiply faster than adders add.
Anonymous
In Evan Esar, 20,000 Quips and Quotes, 509.
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Art is an expression of the world order and is, therefore, orderly, organic, subject to mathematical law, and susceptible to mathematical analysis.
In 'The Theosophic View of the Art of Architecture', The Beautiful Necessity, Seven Essays on Theosophy and Architecture (2nd ed., 1922), Preface to the Second Edition, 11.
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Art is usually considered to be not of the highest quality if the desired object is exhibited in the midst of unnecessary lumber.
In Mathematics: Queen and Servant of Sciences (1938), 20. Bell is writing about the postulational method and the art of pruning a set of postulates to bare essentials without internal duplication.
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As a little boy, I showed an abnormal aptitude for mathematics this gift played a horrible part in tussles with quinsy or scarlet fever, when I felt enormous spheres and huge numbers swell relentlessly in my aching brain.
In Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited (1999), 2
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As an Art, Mathematics has its own standard of beauty and elegance which can vie with the more decorative arts. In this it is diametrically opposed to a Baroque art which relies on a wealth of ornamental additions. Bereft of superfluous addenda, Mathematics may appear, on first acquaintance, austere and severe. But longer contemplation reveals the classic attributes of simplicity relative to its significance and depth of meaning.
In The Skeleton Key of Mathematics (1949), 12.
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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.
Sidelights on Relativity (1920), 28.
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As for everything else, so for a mathematical theory: beauty can be perceived but not explained.
President’s address (1883) to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, in The Collected Mathematical Papers (1895), Vol. 8, xxii.
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As history proves abundantly, mathematical achievement, whatever its intrinsic worth, is the most enduring of all.
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, 1967), 80.
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As in Mathematicks, so in Natural Philosophy, the Investigation of difficult Things by the Method of Analysis, ought ever to precede the Method of Composition. This Analysis consists in making Experiments and Observations, and in drawing general Conclusions from them by Induction, and admitting of no Objections against the Conclusions, but such as are taken from Experiments, or other certain Truths. For Hypotheses are not to be regarded in experimental Philosophy.
From Opticks, (1704, 2nd ed. 1718), Book 3, Query 31, 380.
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As regards authority I so proceed. Boetius says in the second prologue to his Arithmetic, 'If an inquirer lacks the four parts of mathematics, he has very little ability to discover truth.' And again, 'Without this theory no one can have a correct insight into truth.' And he says also, 'I warn the man who spurns these paths of knowledge that he cannot philosophize correctly.' And Again, 'It is clear that whosoever passes these by, has lost the knowledge of all learning.'
Opus Majus [1266-1268], Part IV, distinction I, chapter I, trans. R. B. Burke, The Opus Majus of Roger Bacon (1928), Vol. I, 117.
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As the prerogative of Natural Science is to cultivate a taste for observation, so that of Mathematics is, almost from the starting point, to stimulate the faculty of invention.
In 'A Plea for the Mathematician', Nature, 1, 261 in Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2 (1908), 717.
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As to the need of improvement there can be no question whilst the reign of Euclid continues. My own idea of a useful course is to begin with arithmetic, and then not Euclid but algebra. Next, not Euclid, but practical geometry, solid as well as plane; not demonstration, but to make acquaintance. Then not Euclid, but elementary vectors, conjoined with algebra, and applied to geometry. Addition first; then the scalar product. Elementary calculus should go on simultaneously, and come into vector algebraic geometry after a bit. Euclid might be an extra course for learned men, like Homer. But Euclid for children is barbarous.
Electro-Magnetic Theory (1893), Vol. 1, 148. In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 130.
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At every major step physics has required, and frequently stimulated, the introduction of new mathematical tools and concepts. Our present understanding of the laws of physics, with their extreme precision and universality, is only possible in mathematical terms.
In Book Review 'Pulling the Strings,' of Lawrence Krauss's Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Lure of Extra Dimensions, from Plato to String Theory and Beyond in Nature (22 Dec 2005), 438, 1081.
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At the present time it is of course quite customary for physicists to trespass on chemical ground, for mathematicians to do excellent work in physics, and for physicists to develop new mathematical procedures. … Trespassing is one of the most successful techniques in science.
In Dynamics in Psychology (1940, 1973), 116.
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Bacon himself was very ignorant of all that had been done by mathematics; and, strange to say, he especially objected to astronomy being handed over to the mathematicians. Leverrier and Adams, calculating an unknown planet into a visible existence by enormous heaps of algebra, furnish the last comment of note on this specimen of the goodness of Bacon’s view… . Mathematics was beginning to be the great instrument of exact inquiry: Bacon threw the science aside, from ignorance, just at the time when his enormous sagacity, applied to knowledge, would have made him see the part it was to play. If Newton had taken Bacon for his master, not he, but somebody else, would have been Newton.
In Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 53-54.
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Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics.
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 85.

Before an experiment can be performed, it must be planned—the question to nature must be formulated before being posed. Before the result of a measurement can be used, it must be interpreted—nature's answer must be understood properly. These two tasks are those of the theorist, who finds himself always more and more dependent on the tools of abstract mathematics. Of course, this does not mean that the experimenter does not also engage in theoretical deliberations. The foremost classical example of a major achievement produced by such a division of labor is the creation of spectrum analysis by the joint efforts of Robert Bunsen, the experimenter, and Gustav Kirchoff, the theorist. Since then, spectrum analysis has been continually developing and bearing ever richer fruit.
'The Meaning and Limits of Exact Science', Science (30 Sep 1949), 110, No. 2857, 325. Advance reprinting of chapter from book Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography (1949), 110.
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Before you generalize, formalize, and axiomatize there must be mathematical substance.
In Eberhard Zeidler, Applied Functional Analysis: main principles and their applications (1995), 282.
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Being a language, mathematics may be used not only to inform but also, among other things, to seduce.
From Fractals: Form, Chance and Dimension (1977), 20.
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Besides a mathematical inclination, an exceptionally good mastery of one’s native tongue is the most vital asset of a competent programmer.
…...
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Besides accustoming the student to demand, complete proof, and to know when he has not obtained it, mathematical studies are of immense benefit to his education by habituating him to precision. It is one of the peculiar excellencies of mathematical discipline, that the mathematician is never satisfied with à peu près. He requires the exact truth. Hardly any of the non-mathematical sciences, except chemistry, has this advantage. One of the commonest modes of loose thought, and sources of error both in opinion and in practice, is to overlook the importance of quantities. Mathematicians and chemists are taught by the whole course of their studies, that the most fundamental difference of quality depends on some very slight difference in proportional quantity; and that from the qualities of the influencing elements, without careful attention to their quantities, false expectation would constantly be formed as to the very nature and essential character of the result produced.
In An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1878), 611. [The French phrase, à peu près means “approximately”. —Webmaster]
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Boltzmann was both a wizard of a mathematician and a physicist of international renown. The magnitude of his output of scientific papers was positively unnerving. He would publish two, three, sometimes four monographs a year; each one was forbiddingly dense, festooned with mathematics, and as much as a hundred pages in length.
In 'The Bulldog: A Profile of Ludwig Boltzmann', The American Scholar (1 Jan 1999), 99.
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Elbert (Green) Hubbard quote: Business, to be successful, must be based on science, for demand and supply are matters
Business, to be successful, must be based on science, for demand and supply are matters of mathematics, not guesswork.
The Book of Business (1913), 56.
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But indeed, the English generally have been very stationary in latter times, and the French, on the contrary, so active and successful, particularly in preparing elementary books, in the mathematical and natural sciences, that those who wish for instruction, without caring from what nation they get it, resort universally to the latter language.
Letter (29 Jan 1824) to Patrick K. Rodgers. Collected in Andrew A. Lipscomb (ed.), The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1904), Vol. 16, 2.
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But of this I can assure you that there is not a movement of any body of Men however small whether on Horse-back or on foot, nor an operation or March of any description nor any Service in the field that is not formed upon some mathematical principle, and in the performance of which the knowledge and practical application of the mathematicks will be found not only useful but necessary. The application of the Mathematicks to Gunnery, Fortification, Tactics, the survey and knowledge of formal Castrenantion etc. cannot be acquired without study.
Duke of Wellington to his son Douro (1826). Quoted in A Selection of the Private Correspondence of the First Duke of Wellington (1952), 44.
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By and large it is uniformly true in mathematics that there is a time lapse between a mathematical discovery and the moment when it is useful; and that this lapse of time can be anything from 30 to 100 years, in some cases even more.
From Address (1954) to Princeton Alumni, 'The Role of Mathematics in the Sciences and in Society', published in A.H. Taub (ed.), John von Neumann: Collected Works (1963), Vol. 6, 489. As quoted and cited in Rosemary Schmalz,Out of the Mouths of Mathematicians: A Quotation Book for Philomaths (1993), 123.
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By keenly confronting the enigmas that surround us, and by considering and analyzing the observations that I had made I ended up in the domain of mathematics.
In M.C. Escher: The Graphic Work (1978), 8.
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Can science ever be immune from experiments conceived out of prejudices and stereotypes, conscious or not? (Which is not to suggest that it cannot in discrete areas identify and locate verifiable phenomena in nature.) I await the study that says lesbians have a region of the hypothalamus that resembles straight men and I would not be surprised if, at this very moment, some scientist somewhere is studying brains of deceased Asians to see if they have an enlarged ‘math region’ of the brain.
Kay Diaz
…...
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Cauchy is mad, and there is no way of being on good terms with him, although at present he is the only man who knows how mathematics should be treated. What he does is excellent, but very confused…
In Oeuvres (1826), Vol. 2, 259. As quoted and cited in Ernst Hairer and Gerhard Wanner Analysis by Its History (2008), 188. From the original French, “Cauchy est fou, et avec lui il n’y a pas moyen de s’entendre, bien que pour le moment il soit celui qui sait comment les mathématiques doivent être traitées. Ce qu’il fait est excellent, mais très brouillé….”
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Characteristically skeptical of the idea that living things would faithfully follow mathematical formulas, [Robert Harper] seized upon factors in corn which seemed to blend in the hybrid—rather than be represented by plus or minus signs, and put several seasons into throwing doubt upon the concept of immutable hypothetical units of inheritance concocted to account for selected results.
In 'Robert Almer Harper', National Academy Biographical Memoirs (1948), 25, 233-234.
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Chemical engineering is the profession in which a knowledge of mathematics, chemistry and other natural sciences gained by study, experience and practice is applied with judgment to develop economic ways of using materials and energy for the benefit of mankind.
AIChE
In Article III, 'Definition of the Profession', Constitution of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (as amended 17 Jan 2003). The same wording is found in the 1983 Constitution, as quoted in Nicholas A. Peppas (ed.), One Hundred Years of Chemical Engineering: From Lewis M. Norton (M.I.T. 1888) to Present (2012), 334.
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Chess combines the beauty of mathematical structure with the recreational delights of a competitive game.
In 'Preface', Mathematics, Magic, and Mystery (1956), ix.
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Chess problems are the hymn-tunes of mathematics.
'A Mathematician's Apology', in James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (2000), 2028.
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Children are told that an apple fell on Isaac Newton’s head and he was led to state the law of gravity. This, of course, is pure foolishness. What Newton discovered was that any two particles in the universe attract each other with a force that is proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. This is not learned from a falling apple, but by observing quantities of data and developing a mathematical theory that can be verified by additional data. Data gathered by Galileo on falling bodies and by Johannes Kepler on motions of the planets were invaluable aids to Newton. Unfortunately, such false impressions about science are not universally outgrown like the Santa Claus myth, and some people who don’t study much science go to their graves thinking that the human race took until the mid-seventeenth century to notice that objects fall.
In How to Tell the Liars from the Statisticians (1983), 127.
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Classes and concepts may, however, also be conceived as real objects, namely classes as “pluralities of things” or as structures consisting of a plurality of things and concepts as the properties and relations of things existing independently of our definitions and constructions. It seems to me that the assumption of such objects is quite as legitimate as the assumption of physical bodies and there is quite as much reason to believe in their existence. They are in the same sense necessary to obtain a satisfactory system of mathematics as physical bodies are necessary for a satisfactory theory of our sense perceptions…
In 'Russell's Mathematical Logic', in P.A. Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell (1944), Vol. 1, 137.
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Common integration is only the memory of differentiation...
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Conterminous with space and coeval with time is the kingdom of Mathematics; within this range her dominion is supreme; otherwise than according to her order nothing can exist; in contradiction to her laws nothing takes place. On her mysterious scroll is to be found written for those who can read it that which has been, that which is, and that which is to come.
From Presidential Address (Aug 1878) to the British Association, Dublin, published in the Report of the 48th Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1878), 31.
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Deductivism in mathematical literature and inductivism in scientific papers are simply the postures we choose to be seen in when the curtain goes up and the public sees us. The theatrical illusion is shattered if we ask what goes on behind the scenes. In real life discovery and justification are almost always different processes.
Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought (1969), 26.
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Descartes is the completest type which history presents of the purely mathematical type of mind—that in which the tendencies produced by mathematical cultivation reign unbalanced and supreme.
In An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1878), 626.
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Difficulties [in defining mathematics with full generality, yet simplicity] are but consequences of our refusal to see that mathematics cannot be defined without acknowledging its most obvious feature: namely, that it is interesting. Nowhere is intellectual beauty so deeply felt and fastidiously appreciated.
In Personal Knowledge (1958, 2012), 200,
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Dirichlet was not satisfied to study Gauss’ Disquisitiones arithmetical once or several times, but continued throughout life to keep in close touch with the wealth of deep mathematical thoughts which it contains by perusing it again and again. For this reason the book was never placed on the shelf but had an abiding place on the table at which he worked. … Dirichlet was the first one, who not only fully understood this work, but made it also accessible to others.
In Dirichlet, Werke, Bd. 2, 315.
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Distrust even Mathematics; albeit so sublime and highly perfected, we have here a machine of such delicacy it can only work in vacuo, and one grain of sand in the wheels is enough to put everything out of gear. One shudders to think to what disaster such a grain of sand may bring a Mathematical brain. Remember Pascal.
The Garden of Epicurus (1894) translated by Alfred Allinson, in The Works of Anatole France in an English Translation (1920), 187.
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Do not imagine that mathematics is harsh and crabbed, and repulsive to common sense. It is merely the etherealisation of common sense.
'The Six Gateways of Knowledge', Presidential Address to the Birmingham and Midland Institute, Birmingham (3 Oct 1883). In Popular Lectures and Addresses (1891), Vol. 1, 280.
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Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.
In letter (7 Jan 1943) to Barbara Wilson, a junior high school student, who had difficulties in school with mathematics. In Einstein Archives, 42-606. Quoted in Alice Calaprice, Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein's Letters to and from Children (2002), 140.
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Do not worry about your problems in mathematics. I assure you, my problems with mathematics are much greater than yours.
…...
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Don’t talk to me of your Archimedes’ lever. He was an absent-minded person with a mathematical imagination. Mathematics commands all my respect, but I have no use for engines. Give me the right word and the right accent and I will move the world.
In 'Preface', A Personal Record (1912), 2.
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During the last two centuries and a half, physical knowledge has been gradually made to rest upon a basis which it had not before. It has become mathematical. The question now is, not whether this or that hypothesis is better or worse to the pure thought, but whether it accords with observed phenomena in those consequences which can be shown necessarily to follow from it, if it be true
In Augustus De Morgan and Sophia Elizabeth De Morgan (ed.), A Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 2.
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During the three years which I spent at Cambridge my time was wasted, as far as the academical studies were concerned…. I attempted mathematics, … but I got on very slowly. The work was repugnant to me, chiefly from my not being able to see any meaning in the early steps in algebra. This impatience was very foolish…
In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), 'Autobiography', The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887, 1896), Vol. 1, 40.
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Each thing in the world has names or unnamed relations to everything else. Relations are infinite in number and kind. To be is to be related. It is evident that the understanding of relations is a major concern of all men and women. Are relations a concern of mathematics? They are so much its concern that mathematics is sometimes defined to be the science of relations.
In Mole Philosophy and Other Essays (1927), 94-95.
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Education is like a diamond with many facets: It includes the basic mastery of numbers and letters that give us access to the treasury of human knowledge, accumulated and refined through the ages; it includes technical and vocational training as well as instruction in science, higher mathematics, and humane letters.
In Proclamation 5463, for Education Day (19 Apr 1986). Collected in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Ronald Reagan, 1986 (1988), 490.
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Einstein, twenty-six years old, only three years away from crude privation, still a patent examiner, published in the Annalen der Physik in 1905 five papers on entirely different subjects. Three of them were among the greatest in the history of physics. One, very simple, gave the quantum explanation of the photoelectric effect—it was this work for which, sixteen years later, he was awarded the Nobel prize. Another dealt with the phenomenon of Brownian motion, the apparently erratic movement of tiny particles suspended in a liquid: Einstein showed that these movements satisfied a clear statistical law. This was like a conjuring trick, easy when explained: before it, decent scientists could still doubt the concrete existence of atoms and molecules: this paper was as near to a direct proof of their concreteness as a theoretician could give. The third paper was the special eory of relativity, which quietly amalgamated space, time, and matter into one fundamental unity. This last paper contains no references and quotes no authority. All of them are written in a style unlike any other theoretical physicist's. They contain very little mathematics. There is a good deal of verbal commentary. The conclusions, the bizarre conclusions, emerge as though with the greatest of ease: the reasoning is unbreakable. It looks as though he had reached the conclusions by pure thought, unaided, without listening to the opinions of others. To a surprisingly large extent, that is precisely what he had done.
Variety of Men (1966), 100-1.
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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 application of scientific and mathematical principles to practical ends such as the design, manufacture, and operation of efficient and economical structures, machines, processes, and systems.
In Bernice Zeldin Schacter, Issues and Dilemmas of Biotechnology: A Reference Guide (1999), 1, citing the American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College Edition.
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Engineering is the profession in which a knowledge of the mathematical and natural sciences gained by study, experience, and practice is applied with judgment to develop ways to utilize, economically, the materials and forces of nature for the benefit of mankind.
ABET
In EAC Criteria for 1999-2000 as cited in Charles R. Lord, Guide to Information Sources in Engineering (2000), 5. Found in many sources, and earlier, for example, Otis E. Lancaster, American Society for Engineering Education, Engineers' Council for Professional Development, Achieve Learning Objectives (1962), 8.
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Engineers apply the theories and principles of science and mathematics to research and develop economical solutions to practical technical problems. Their work is the link between scientific discoveries and commercial applications. Engineers design products, the machinery to build those products, the factories in which those products are made, and the systems that ensure the quality of the product and efficiency of the workforce and manufacturing process. They design, plan, and supervise the construction of buildings, highways, and transit systems. They develop and implement improved ways to extract, process, and use raw materials, such as petroleum and natural gas. They develop new materials that both improve the performance of products, and make implementing advances in technology possible. They harness the power of the sun, the earth, atoms, and electricity for use in supplying the Nation’s power needs, and create millions of products using power. Their knowledge is applied to improving many things, including the quality of health care, the safety of food products, and the efficient operation of financial systems.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook (2000) as quoted in Charles R. Lord. Guide to Information Sources in Engineering (2000), 5. This definition has been revised and expanded over time in different issues of the Handbook.
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Eratosthenes of Cyrene, employing mathematical theories and geometrical methods, discovered from the course of the sun, the shadows cast by an equinoctial gnomon, and the inclination of the heaven that the circumference of the earth is two hundred and fifty-two thousand stadia, that is, thirty-one million five hundred thousand paces.
Vitruvius
In De Architectura, Book 1, Chap 6, Sec. 9. As translated in Morris Hicky Morgan (trans.), Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture (1914), 27-28.
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Essentially all civilizations that rose to the level of possessing an urban culture had need for two forms of science-related technology, namely, mathematics for land measurements and commerce and astronomy for time-keeping in agriculture and aspects of religious rituals.
From The Science Matrix: The Journey, Travails, Triumphs (1992, 1998), Preface, x.
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Euclid and Archimedes are allowed to be knowing, and to have demonstrated what they say: and yet whosoever shall read over their writings without perceiving the connection of their proofs, and seeing what they show, though he may understand all their words, yet he is not the more knowing. He may believe, indeed, but does not know what they say, and so is not advanced one jot in mathematical knowledge by all his reading of those approved mathematicians.
In Conduct of the Understanding, sect. 24.
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Euclid avoids it [the treatment of the infinite]; in modern mathematics it is systematically introduced, for only then is generality obtained.
'Geometry', Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th edition. In George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane (1982), 130.
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Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?
A Brief History of Time (1998), 190.
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Every new body of discovery is mathematical in form, because there is no other guidance we can have.
(1931). As quoted, without citation, in Eric Temple Bell, 'They Say, What They Say, Let Them Say', Men of Mathematics (1937, 2014), Vol. 2, xvii. Webmaster has searched, but not yet found a primary source. Can you help?
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Every human activity, good or bad, except mathematics, must come to an end.
Quoted as a favorite saying of Paul Erdös, by Béla Bollobás, 'The Life and Work of Paul Erdos', in Shiing-Shen Chern and Friedrich Hirzebruch (eds.) Wolf Prize in Mathematics (2000), Vol. 1, 292.
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Every mathematical discipline goes through three periods of development: the naive, the formal, and the critical.
Quoted in R Remmert, Theory of complex functions (New York, 1989).
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Everybody firmly believes in it [Nomal Law of Errors] because the mathematicians imagine it is a fact of observation, and observers that it is a theory of mathematics.
…...
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Everywhere in nature we seek some certainty, but all this is nothing more than an arrangement of the dark feeling of our own. All the mathematical laws that we find in Nature are always suspicious to me, despite their beauty. They give me no pleasure. They are merely expedients. Everything is not true at close range.
From the original German, in Physikalische und Mathematische Schriften (1806), Vol. 4, 145, “Wir suchen in der Natur überall eine gewisse Bestimmtheit, aber das Alles ist weiter nichts, als Anordnung des dunkeln Gefühls unserer eigenen. Alle mathematischen Gesetze, die wir in der Natur finden, sind mir trotz ihrer Schönheit immer verdächtig. Sie Freuen mich nicht. Sie sind bloss Hülfsmittel. In der Nähe ist Alles nicht wahr.” English version by Webmaster using Google translate.
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Examples ... show how difficult it often is for an experimenter to interpret his results without the aid of mathematics.
Quoted in E. T. Bell, Men of Mathematics, xvi.
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Experiments may be of two kinds: experiments of simple fact, and experiments of quantity. ...[In the latter] the conditions will ... vary, not in quality, but quantity, and the effect will also vary in quantity, so that the result of quantitative induction is also to arrive at some mathematical expression involving the quantity of each condition, and expressing the quantity of the result. In other words, we wish to know what function the effect is of its conditions. We shall find that it is one thing to obtain the numerical results, and quite another thing to detect the law obeyed by those results, the latter being an operation of an inverse and tentative character.
Principles of Science: A Treatise on Logic and Scientific Method (1874, 1892), 439.
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Few will deny that even in the first scientific instruction in mathematics the most rigorous method is to be given preference over all others. Especially will every teacher prefer a consistent proof to one which is based on fallacies or proceeds in a vicious circle, indeed it will be morally impossible for the teacher to present a proof of the latter kind consciously and thus in a sense deceive his pupils. Notwithstanding these objectionable so-called proofs, so far as the foundation and the development of the system is concerned, predominate in our textbooks to the present time. Perhaps it will be answered, that rigorous proof is found too difficult for the pupil’s power of comprehension. Should this be anywhere the case,—which would only indicate some defect in the plan or treatment of the whole,—the only remedy would be to merely state the theorem in a historic way, and forego a proof with the frank confession that no proof has been found which could be comprehended by the pupil; a remedy which is ever doubtful and should only be applied in the case of extreme necessity. But this remedy is to be preferred to a proof which is no proof, and is therefore either wholly unintelligible to the pupil, or deceives him with an appearance of knowledge which opens the door to all superficiality and lack of scientific method.
In 'Stücke aus dem Lehrbuche der Arithmetik', Werke, Bd. 2 (1904), 296.
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Finite systems of deterministic ordinary nonlinear differential equations may be designed to represent forced dissipative hydrodynamic flow. Solutions of these equations can be identified with trajectories in phase space. For those systems with bounded solutions, it is found that nonperiodic solutions are ordinarily unstable with respect to small modifications, so that slightly differing initial states can evolve into considerably different states. Systems with bounded solutions are shown to possess bounded numerical solutions.
A simple system representing cellular convection is solved numerically. All of the solutions are found to be unstable, and almost all of them are nonperiodic.
The feasibility of very-long-range weather prediction is examined in the light of these results
Abstract from his landmark paper introducing Chaos Theory in relation to weather prediction, 'Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow', Journal of the Atmospheric Science (Mar 1963), 20, 130.
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First of all, we ought to observe, that mathematical propositions, properly so called, are always judgments a priori, and not empirical, because they carry along with them necessity, which can never be deduced from experience. If people should object to this, I am quite willing to confine my statements to pure mathematics, the very concept of which implies that it does not contain empirical, but only pure knowledge a priori.
In Critique of Pure Reason (1900), 720.
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First, as concerns the success of teaching mathematics. No instruction in the high schools is as difficult as that of mathematics, since the large majority of students are at first decidedly disinclined to be harnessed into the rigid framework of logical conclusions. The interest of young people is won much more easily, if sense-objects are made the starting point and the transition to abstract formulation is brought about gradually. For this reason it is psychologically quite correct to follow this course.
Not less to be recommended is this course if we inquire into the essential purpose of mathematical instruction. Formerly it was too exclusively held that this purpose is to sharpen the understanding. Surely another important end is to implant in the student the conviction that correct thinking based on true premises secures mastery over the outer world. To accomplish this the outer world must receive its share of attention from the very beginning.
Doubtless this is true but there is a danger which needs pointing out. It is as in the case of language teaching where the modern tendency is to secure in addition to grammar also an understanding of the authors. The danger lies in grammar being completely set aside leaving the subject without its indispensable solid basis. Just so in Teaching of Mathematics it is possible to accumulate interesting applications to such an extent as to stunt the essential logical development. This should in no wise be permitted, for thus the kernel of the whole matter is lost. Therefore: We do want throughout a quickening of mathematical instruction by the introduction of applications, but we do not want that the pendulum, which in former decades may have inclined too much toward the abstract side, should now swing to the other extreme; we would rather pursue the proper middle course.
In Ueber den Mathematischen Unterricht an den hoheren Schulen; Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung, Bd. 11, 131.
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First, [Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation] is mathematical in its expression…. Second, it is not exact; Einstein had to modify it…. There is always an edge of mystery, always a place where we have some fiddling around to do yet…. But the most impressive fact is that gravity is simple…. It is simple, and therefore it is beautiful…. Finally, comes the universality of the gravitational law and the fact that it extends over such enormous distances…
In The Character of Physical Law (1965, 2001), 33.
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For a physicist mathematics is not just a tool by means of which phenomena can be calculated, it is the main source of concepts and principles by means of which new theories can be created.
In 'Mathematics in the Physical Sciences', Scientific American (Sep 1964), 211, No. 3, 129.
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For all their wealth of content, for all the sum of history and social institution invested in them, music, mathematics, and chess are resplendently useless (applied mathematics is a higher plumbing, a kind of music for the police band). They are metaphysically trivial, irresponsible. They refuse to relate outward, to take reality for arbiter. This is the source of their witchery.
In 'A Death of Kings', George Steiner at The New Yorker (2009), 209.
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For it being the nature of the mind of man (to the extreme prejudice of knowledge) to delight in the spacious liberty of generalities, as in a champion region, and not in the enclosures of particularity; the Mathematics were the goodliest fields to satisfy that appetite.
In De Augmentis, Bk. 8; Advancement of Learning, Bk. 2.
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For many parts of Nature can neither be invented with sufficient subtlety, nor demonstrated with sufficient perspicuity, nor accommodated unto use with sufficient dexterity, without the aid and intervening of the mathematics, of which sort are perspective, music, astronomy, cosmography, architecture, engineery, and divers others.
The Advancement of Learning (1605), Book 2. Reprinted in The Two Books of Francis Bacon: Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning, Divine and Human (2009), 97.
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For mathematics, in a wilderness of tragedy and change, is a creature of the mind, born to the cry of humanity in search of an invariant reality, immutable in substance, unalterable with time.
In The American Mathematical Monthly (1949), 56, 19. Excerpted in John Ewing (ed,), A Century of Mathematics: Through the Eyes of the Monthly (1996), 186.
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For scholars and laymen alike it is not philosophy but active experience in mathematics itself that can alone answer the question: What is mathematics?
As co-author with Herbert Robbins, in What Is Mathematics?: An Elementary Approach to Ideas and Methods (1941, 1996), xiii.
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For the things of this world cannot be made known without a knowledge of mathematics.
(Sent to the Pope in 1267). As translated in Opus Majus (1928), Vol. 1, 128.
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For twenty pages perhaps, he read slowly, carefully, dutifully, with pauses for self-examination and working out examples. Then, just as it was working up and the pauses should have been more scrupulous than ever, a kind of swoon and ecstasy would fall on him, and he read ravening on, sitting up till dawn to finish the book, as though it were a novel. After that his passion was stayed; the book went back to the Library and he was done with mathematics till the next bout. Not much remained with him after these orgies, but something remained: a sensation in the mind, a worshiping acknowledgment of something isolated and unassailable, or a remembered mental joy at the rightness of thoughts coming together to a conclusion, accurate thoughts, thoughts in just intonation, coming together like unaccompanied voices coming to a close.
In Mr. Fortune’s Maggot (1927), 161.
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For, in mathematics or symbolic logic, reason can crank out the answer from the symboled equations—even a calculating machine can often do so—but it cannot alone set up the equations. Imagination resides in the words which define and connect the symbols—subtract them from the most aridly rigorous mathematical treatise and all meaning vanishes. Was it Eddington who said that we once thought if we understood 1 we understood 2, for 1 and 1 are 2, but we have since found we must learn a good deal more about “and”?
In 'The Biological Basis of Imagination', American Thought: 1947 (1947), 81.
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For, Mathematical Demonstrations being built upon the impregnable Foundations of Geometry and Arithmetick, are the only Truths, that can sink into the Mind of Man, void of all Uncertainty; and all other Discourses participate more or less of Truth, according as their Subjects are more or less capable of Mathematical Demonstration.
Inaugural lecture of Christopher Wren in his chair of astronomy at Gresham College (1657). From Parentelia (1741, 1951), 200-201.
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From a mathematical standpoint it is possible to have infinite space. In a mathematical sense space is manifoldness, or combinations of numbers. Physical space is known as the 3-dimension system. There is the 4-dimension system, the 10-dimension system.
As quoted in 'Electricity Will Keep The World From Freezing Up', New York Times (12 Nov 1911), SM4.
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From the age of 13, I was attracted to physics and mathematics. My interest in these subjects derived mostly from popular science books that I read avidly. Early on I was fascinated by theoretical physics and determined to become a theoretical physicist. I had no real idea what that meant, but it seemed incredibly exciting to spend one's life attempting to find the secrets of the universe by using one's mind.
From 'Autobiography', in Tore Frängsmyr (ed.) Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 2004, (2005).
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Gauss once said, “Mathematics is the queen of the sciences and number theory the queen of mathematics.” If this is true we may add that the Disquisitions is the Magna Charter of number theory.
In Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (1878, 8, 435. As cited and translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 158.
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Gauss [replied], when asked how soon he expected to reach certain mathematical conclusions, “that he had them long ago, all he was worrying about was how to reach them.”
In Louis Pasteur, Free Lance of Science (1950), 365. Also excerpted in 'Mechanisms of Discovery', collected in I.S. Gordon and S. Sorkin (eds.) The Armchair Science Reader (1959), 336.
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Gel’fand amazed me by talking of mathematics as though it were poetry. He once said about a long paper bristling with formulas that it contained the vague beginnings of an idea which could only hint at and which he had never managed to bring out more clearly. I had always thought of mathematics as being much more straightforward: a formula is a formula, and an algebra is an algebra, but Gel’fand found hedgehogs lurking in the rows of his spectral sequences!
In '1991 Ruth Lyttle Satter Prize', Notices of the American Mathematical Society (Mar 1991), 38, No. 3, 186. This is from her acceptance of the 1991 Ruth Lyttle Satter Prize.
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Genetics is the first biological science which got in the position in which physics has been in for many years. One can justifiably speak about such a thing as theoretical mathematical genetics, and experimental genetics, just as in physics. There are some mathematical geniuses who work out what to an ordinary person seems a fantastic kind of theory. This fantastic kind of theory nevertheless leads to experimentally verifiable prediction, which an experimental physicist then has to test the validity of. Since the times of Wright, Haldane, and Fisher, evolutionary genetics has been in a similar position.
Oral history memoir. Columbia University, Oral History Research Office, New York, 1962. Quoted in William B. Provine, Sewall Wright and Evolutionary Biology (1989), 277.
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Geology has its peculiar difficulties, from which all other sciences are exempt. Questions in chemistry may be settled in the laboratory by experiment. Mathematical and philosophical questions may be discussed, while the materials for discussion are ready furnished by our own intellectual reflections. Plants, animals and minerals, may be arranged in the museum, and all questions relating to their intrinsic principles may be discussed with facility. But the relative positions, the shades of difference, the peculiar complexions, whether continuous or in subordinate beds, are subjects of enquiry in settling the character of rocks, which can be judged of while they are in situ only.
A Geological and Agricultural Survey of the District Adjoining the Erie Canal (1824), 8.
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Given any domain of thought in which the fundamental objective is a knowledge that transcends mere induction or mere empiricism, it seems quite inevitable that its processes should be made to conform closely to the pattern of a system free of ambiguous terms, symbols, operations, deductions; a system whose implications and assumptions are unique and consistent; a system whose logic confounds not the necessary with the sufficient where these are distinct; a system whose materials are abstract elements interpretable as reality or unreality in any forms whatsoever provided only that these forms mirror a thought that is pure. To such a system is universally given the name MATHEMATICS.
In 'Mathematics', National Mathematics Magazine (Nov 1937), 12, No. 2, 62.
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God does not care about our mathematical difficulties. He integrates empirically.
Quoted, without citation, by Léopold Infeld in Quest (1942, 1980), 279. If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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God exists since mathematics is consistent, and the Devil exists since we cannot prove it.
Given as “A. Weil has said…”, in Paul C. Rosenbloom, The Elements of Mathematical Logic (1950), 72. Note that Rosenbloom gives the quote in narrative form, not within quotation marks, which suggests these words may not be verbatim. Later texts have added quotation marks [which may not be justified. —Webmaster] As yet, Webmaster has not found an earlier source to validate whether the quotations marks can be used. (Can you help?)
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God forbid that Truth should be confined to Mathematical Demonstration! He who does not know truth at sight is unworthy of Her Notice.
Marginal note (c. 1808) written in his copy of 'Discourse VII', The Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1798), beside “…as true as mathematical demonstration…”. As given in William Blake, Edwin John Ellis (ed.) and William Butler Yeats (ed.), The Works of William Blake (1893), Vol. 2, 340.
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God is a child; and when he began to play, he cultivated mathematics. It is the most godly of man’s games.
Said by the fictional character, mathematics teacher, Professor Hirt, in Das Blinde Spiel (The Blind Game, 1954), 253. As translated in an epigraph, Stanley Gudder, A Mathematical Journey (1976), 269. From the original German, “Gott ist ein Kind, und als er zu spielen begann, trieb er Mathematik. Die Mathematik ist göttlichste Spielerei unter den Menschen”, as quoted in Herbert Meschkowski, Hundert Jahre Mengenlehre (1973), 119.
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God used beautiful mathematics in creating the world.
Quoted in Behram Kursunoglu and Eugene Paul Wigner, Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac (1990), Preface, xv.
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Gradually, at various points in our childhoods, we discover different forms of conviction. There’s the rock-hard certainty of personal experience (“I put my finger in the fire and it hurt,”), which is probably the earliest kind we learn. Then there’s the logically convincing, which we probably come to first through maths, in the context of Pythagoras’s theorem or something similar, and which, if we first encounter it at exactly the right moment, bursts on our minds like sunrise with the whole universe playing a great chord of C Major.
In short essay, 'Dawkins, Fairy Tales, and Evidence', 2.
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Greek mathematics is the real thing. The Greeks first spoke a language which modern mathematicians can understand… So Greek mathematics is ‘permanent’, more permanent even than Greek literature.
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, 1967), 81.
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Guided only by their feeling for symmetry, simplicity, and generality, and an indefinable sense of the fitness of things, creative mathematicians now, as in the past, are inspired by the art of mathematics rather than by any prospect of ultimate usefulness.
In The Queen of the Sciences (1938), 2.
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Hardly a pure science, history is closer to animal husbandry than it is to mathematics, in that it involves selective breeding. The principal difference between the husbandryman and the historian is that the former breeds sheep or cows or such, and the latter breeds (assumed) facts. The husbandryman uses his skills to enrich the future; the historian uses his to enrich the past. Both are usually up to their ankles in bullshit.
Another Roadside Attraction (1990), 127.
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Has Matter more than Motion? Has it Thought,
Judgment, and Genius? Is it deeply learn’d
In Mathematics? Has it fram’d such Laws,
Which, but to guess, a Newton made immortal?—
If so, how each sage Atom laughs at me,
Who think a Clod inferior to a Man!
The Complaint: or, Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality (1742, 1750), Night 9, 279.
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Having been the discoverer of many splendid things, he is said to have asked his friends and relations that, after his death, they should place on his tomb a cylinder enclosing a sphere, writing on it the proportion of the containing solid to that which is contained.
Plutarch, Life of Marcellus, 17.12. Trans. R. W. Sharples.
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He that could teach mathematics well, would not be a bad teacher in any of [physics, chemistry, biology or psychology] unless by the accident of total inaptitude for experimental illustration; while the mere experimentalist is likely to fall into the error of missing the essential condition of science as reasoned truth; not to speak of the danger of making the instruction an affair of sensation, glitter, or pyrotechnic show.
In Education as a Science (1879), 298.
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He who gives a portion of his time and talent to the investigation of mathematical truth will come to all other questions with a decided advantage over his opponents. He will be in argument what the ancient Romans were in the field: to them the day of battle was a day of comparative recreation, because they were ever accustomed to exercise with arms much heavier than they fought; and reviews differed from a real battle in two respects: they encountered more fatigue, but the victory was bloodless.
In Lacon (1866).
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Helmholtz—the physiologist who learned physics for the sake of his physiology, and mathematics for the sake of his physics, and is now in the first rank of all three.
In 'Aims and Instruments of Scientific Thought', Lectures and Essays, Vol. 1 (1901), 165.
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Here arises a puzzle that has disturbed scientists of all periods. How can it be that mathematics, being after all a product of human thought which is independent of experience, is so admirably appropriate to the objects of reality? Is human reason, then, without experience, merely by taking thought, able to fathom the properties of real things?
From 'Geometry and Experience', an expanded form of an Address by Albert Einstein to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin (27 Jan 1921). In Albert Einstein, translated by G. B. Jeffery and W. Perrett, Sidelights on Relativity (1923).
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Here I shall present, without using Analysis [mathematics], the principles and general results of the Théorie, applying them to the most important questions of life, which are indeed, for the most part, only problems in probability. One may even say, strictly speaking, that almost all our knowledge is only probable; and in the small number of things that we are able to know with certainty, in the mathematical sciences themselves, the principal means of arriving at the truth—induction and analogy—are based on probabilities, so that the whole system of human knowledge is tied up with the theory set out in this essay.
Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (1814), 5th edition (1825), trans. Andrew I. Dale (1995), 1.
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Here's to pure mathematics—may it never be of any use to anybody.
Anonymous
A toast, variously attributed as used of old at Cambridge University, or as used by G.N. Hardy (according to Arthur C. Clarke in 'The Joy of Maths', Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!: Collected Essays, 1934-1998 (2001), 460).
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His [Thomas Edison] method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90 per cent of the labor. But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor's instinct and practical American sense. In view of this, the truly prodigious amount of his actual accomplishments is little short of a miracle.
As quoted in 'Tesla Says Edison Was an Empiricist', The New York Times (19 Oct 1931), 25. In 1884, Tesla had moved to America to assist Edison in the designing of motors and generators.
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His “Mathematical Games” column in Scientific American is one of the few bridges over C.P. Snow’s famous “gulf of mutual incomprehension’' that lies between technical and literary cultures.
In 'Martin Gardner: A “Documentary”', collected in Elwyn Berlekamp and Tom Rodgers (eds.), The Mathematician and the Pied Puzzler: A Collection in Tribute to Martin Gardner (1999), 9.
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Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtle; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend.
'L. Of Studies,' Essays (1597). In Francis Bacon and Basil Montagu, The Works of Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor of England (1852), 55.
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How can a modern anthropologist embark upon a generalization with any hope of arriving at a satisfactory conclusion? By thinking of the organizational ideas that are present in any society as a mathematical pattern.
In Rethinking Anthropology (1961), 2.
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How can you shorten the subject? That stern struggle with the multiplication table, for many people not yet ended in victory, how can you make it less? Square root, as obdurate as a hardwood stump in a pasture nothing but years of effort can extract it. You can’t hurry the process. Or pass from arithmetic to algebra; you can’t shoulder your way past quadratic equations or ripple through the binomial theorem. Instead, the other way; your feet are impeded in the tangled growth, your pace slackens, you sink and fall somewhere near the binomial theorem with the calculus in sight on the horizon. So died, for each of us, still bravely fighting, our mathematical training; except for a set of people called “mathematicians”—born so, like crooks.
In Too Much College: Or, Education Eating up Life, with Kindred Essays in Education and Humour (1939), 8.
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How is it that there are so many minds that are incapable of understanding mathematics? ... the skeleton of our understanding, ... and actually they are the majority. ... We have here a problem that is not easy of solution, but yet must engage the attention of all who wish to devote themselves to education.
Science and Method (1914, 2003), 117-118.
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How thoroughly it is ingrained in mathematical science that every real advance goes hand in hand with the invention of sharper tools and simpler methods which, at the same time, assist in understanding earlier theories and in casting aside some more complicated developments.
In 'Mathematical Problems', Lecture at the International Congress of Mathematics, Paris, (8 Aug 1900). Translated by Dr. Maby Winton Newson in Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (1902), 8, 479. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath's Quotation-book (1914), 94-95. It is reprinted in Jeremy Gray, The Hilbert Challenge (2000), 282.
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Humanism is only another name for spiritual laziness, or a vague half-creed adopted by men of science and logicians whose heads are too occupied with the world of mathematics and physics to worry about religious categories.
In The Outsider (1956), 279.
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I admit that mathematical science is a good thing. But excessive devotion to it is a bad thing.
Interview with J. W. N. Sullivan, Contemporary Mind (1934). Quoted in James Roy Newman, The World of Mathematics (2000), 2027.
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I advise my students to listen carefully the moment they decide to take no more Mathematics courses. They might be able to hear the sound of closing doors.
From 'Everybody a Mathematician', CAIP Quarterly (Fall 1989), 2, as quoted and cited, as a space filler following article Reinhard C. Laubenbacher and Michael Siddoway, 'Great Problems of Mathematics: A Summer Workshop for High School Students', The College Mathematics Journal (Mar 1994), 25, No. 2, 114.
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I also ask you my friends not to condemn me entirely to the mill of mathematical calculations, and allow me time for philosophical speculations, my only pleasures.
Letter to Vincenzo Bianchi (17 Feb 1619). Johannes Kepler Gesammelte Werke (1937- ), Vol. 17, letter 827, l. 249-51, p. 327.
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I also require much time to ponder over the matters themselves, and particularly the principles of mechanics (as the very words: force, time, space, motion indicate) can occupy one severely enough; likewise, in mathematics, the meaning of imaginary quantities, of the infinitesimally small and infinitely large and similar matters.
In Davis Baird, R.I.G. Hughes and Alfred Nordmann, Heinrich Hertz: Classical Physicist, Modern Philosopher (1998), 159.
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I am acutely aware of the fact that the marriage between mathematics and physics, which was so enormously fruitful in past centuries, has recently ended in divorce.
From 'Missed Opportunities', Josiah Willard Gibbs Lecture (17 Jan 1972), as published in Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (Sep 1972), 78, No. 5. Collected in Jong-Ping Hsu and Dana Fine (eds.), 100 Years of Gravity and Accelerated Frames: The Deepest Insights of Einstein and Yang-Mills (2005), 347.
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I am ever more intrigued by the correspondence between mathematics and physical facts. The adaptability of mathematics to the description of physical phenomena is uncanny.
From Nobel Banquet Speech (10 Dec 1981), in Wilhelm Odelberg (ed.), Les Prix Nobel 1981 (1981), 59.
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I am interested in mathematics only as a creative art.
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 115.

Srinivasa Ramanujan quote: I beg to introduce myself to you as a clerk in the Accounts Department of the Port Trust Office at Ma
I beg to introduce myself to you as a clerk in the Accounts Department of the Port Trust Office at Madras on a salary of only £20 per annum. I am now about 23 years of age. … After leaving school I have been employing the spare time at my disposal to work at Mathematics.
Opening lines of first letter to G.H. Hardy (16 Jan 1913). In Collected Papers of Srinivasa Ramanujan (1927), xxiii. Hardy notes he did “seem to remember his telling me that his friends had given him some assistance” in writing the letter because Ramanujan's “knowledge of English, at that stage of his life, could scarcely have been sufficient.”
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I believe that mathematical reality lies outside us, that our function is to discover or observe it, and that the theorems which we prove, and which we describe grandiloquently as our “creations,” are simply the notes of our observations.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 113.
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I believe that the useful methods of mathematics are easily to be learned by quite young persons, just as languages are easily learned in youth. What a wondrous philosophy and history underlie the use of almost every word in every language—yet the child learns to use the word unconsciously. No doubt when such a word was first invented it was studied over and lectured upon, just as one might lecture now upon the idea of a rate, or the use of Cartesian co-ordinates, and we may depend upon it that children of the future will use the idea of the calculus, and use squared paper as readily as they now cipher. … When Egyptian and Chaldean philosophers spent years in difficult calculations, which would now be thought easy by young children, doubtless they had the same notions of the depth of their knowledge that Sir William Thomson might now have of his. How is it, then, that Thomson gained his immense knowledge in the time taken by a Chaldean philosopher to acquire a simple knowledge of arithmetic? The reason is plain. Thomson, when a child, was taught in a few years more than all that was known three thousand years ago of the properties of numbers. When it is found essential to a boy’s future that machinery should be given to his brain, it is given to him; he is taught to use it, and his bright memory makes the use of it a second nature to him; but it is not till after-life that he makes a close investigation of what there actually is in his brain which has enabled him to do so much. It is taken because the child has much faith. In after years he will accept nothing without careful consideration. The machinery given to the brain of children is getting more and more complicated as time goes on; but there is really no reason why it should not be taken in as early, and used as readily, as were the axioms of childish education in ancient Chaldea.
In Teaching of Mathematics (1902), 14.
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I can see him now at the blackboard, chalk in one hand and rubber in the other, writing rapidly and erasing recklessly, pausing every few minutes to face the class and comment earnestly, perhaps on the results of an elaborate calculation, perhaps on the greatness of the Creator, perhaps on the beauty and grandeur of Mathematics, always with a capital M. To him mathematics was not the handmaid of philosophy. It was not a humanly devised instrument of investigation, it was Philosophy itself, the divine revealer of TRUTH.
Writing as a Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, a former student of Peirce, in 'Benjamin Peirce: II. Reminiscences', The American Mathematical Monthly (Jan 1925), 32, No. 1, 5.
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I can’t think of any definition of the words mathematician or scientist that would apply to me. I think of myself as a journalist who knows just enough about mathematics to be able to take low-level math and make it clear and interesting to nonmathematicians. Let me say that I think not knowing too much about a subject is an asset for a journalist, not a liability. The great secret of my column is that I know so little about mathematics that I have to work hard to understand the subject myself. Maybe I can explain things more clearly than a professional mathematician can.
In Scot Morris, 'Interview: Martin Gardner', Omni, 4, No. 4 (Jan 1982), 68.
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I confess, that after I began … to discern how useful mathematicks may be made to physicks, I have often wished that I had employed about the speculative part of geometry, and the cultivation of the specious Algebra I had been taught very young, a good part of that time and industry, that I had spent about surveying and fortification (of which I remember I once wrote an entire treatise) and other parts of practick mathematicks.
In 'The Usefulness of Mathematiks to Natural Philosophy', Works (1772), Vol. 3, 426.
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I confess, that very different from you, I do find sometimes scientific inspiration in mysticism … but this is counterbalanced by an immediate sense for mathematics.
Letter to Niels Bohr (1955). Quoted in Robert J. Scully, The Demon and the Quantum (2007), 7.
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I did try “to make things clear,” first to myself (an important point) and then to my students and somehow to make “these dry bones live.”
His response on his 80th birthday (1929) recognition of his mathematical contributions and teachings by his former students. As quoted by R.T. Glazebrook in Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society (Dec 1935), 392.
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I do not intend to go deeply into the question how far mathematical studies, as the representatives of conscious logical reasoning, should take a more important place in school education. But it is, in reality, one of the questions of the day. In proportion as the range of science extends, its system and organization must be improved, and it must inevitably come about that individual students will find themselves compelled to go through a stricter course of training than grammar is in a position to supply. What strikes me in my own experience with students who pass from our classical schools to scientific and medical studies, is first, a certain laxity in the application of strictly universal laws. The grammatical rules, in which they have been exercised, are for the most part followed by long lists of exceptions; accordingly they are not in the habit of relying implicitly on the certainty of a legitimate deduction from a strictly universal law. Secondly, I find them for the most part too much inclined to trust to authority, even in cases where they might form an independent judgment. In fact, in philological studies, inasmuch as it is seldom possible to take in the whole of the premises at a glance, and inasmuch as the decision of disputed questions often depends on an aesthetic feeling for beauty of expression, or for the genius of the language, attainable only by long training, it must often happen that the student is referred to authorities even by the best teachers. Both faults are traceable to certain indolence and vagueness of thought, the sad effects of which are not confined to subsequent scientific studies. But certainly the best remedy for both is to be found in mathematics, where there is absolute certainty in the reasoning, and no authority is recognized but that of one’s own intelligence.
In 'On the Relation of Natural Science to Science in general', Popular Lectures on Scientific Subjects, translated by E. Atkinson (1900), 25-26.
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I do not know if God is a mathematician, but mathematics is the loom on which God weaves the universe.
In The Loom of God: Tapestries of Mathematics and Mysticism (1997, 2009), Introduction, 10.
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I do not think the division of the subject into two parts - into applied mathematics and experimental physics a good one, for natural philosophy without experiment is merely mathematical exercise, while experiment without mathematics will neither sufficiently discipline the mind or sufficiently extend our knowledge in a subject like physics.
to Henry Roscoe, Professor of Chemistry at Owens College (2 Jun 1870), B.C.S Archive Quoted in R.H. Kargon, Science in Victorian Manchester (1977), 215.
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I do present you with a man of mine [Hortensio]
Cunning in music and the mathematics
To instruct her fully in those sciences.
In The Taming of the Shrew (1594), Act 2, Scene 1, in The Plays of William Shakespeare (1813), 242.
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I don’t believe in mathematics.
…...
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I don’t know anything about mathematics; can’t even do proportion. But I can hire all the good mathematicians I need for fifteen dollars a week.
As quoted in French Strother, 'The Modern Profession of Inventing', World's Work and Play (Jul 1905), 6, No. 32, 187.
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I had a dislike for [mathematics], and ... was hopelessly short in algebra. ... [One extraordinary teacher of mathematics] got the whole year's course into me in exactly six [after-school] lessons of half an hour each. And how? More accurately, why? Simply because he was an algebra fanatic—because he believed that algebra was not only a science of the utmost importance, but also one of the greatest fascination. ... [H]e convinced me in twenty minutes that ignorance of algebra was as calamitous, socially and intellectually, as ignorance of table manners—That acquiring its elements was as necessary as washing behind the ears. So I fell upon the book and gulped it voraciously. ... To this day I comprehend the binomial theorem.
In Prejudices: third series (1922), 261-262.
For a longer excerpt, see H. L. Mencken's Recollections of School Algebra.
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I had a feeling once about Mathematics—that I saw it all. Depth beyond depth was revealed to me—the Byss and Abyss. I saw—as one might see the transit of Venus or even the Lord Mayor’s Show—a quantity passing through infinity and changing its sign from plus to minus. I saw exactly why it happened and why the tergiversation was inevitable but it was after dinner and I let it go.
In Sir Winston Churchill: A Self-Portrait (1954), 38.
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I had begun it, it will now be unnecessary for me to finish it.[At a late age, expressing his enthusiasm for mathematics had gone, as when informed of some other mathematician's current work.]
As quoted by Charles Hutton in A Philosophical and Mathematical Dictionary (1815), Vol. 1, 708.
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I have before mentioned mathematics, wherein algebra gives new helps and views to the understanding. If I propose these it is not to make every man a thorough mathematician or deep algebraist; but yet I think the study of them is of infinite use even to grown men; first by experimentally convincing them, that to make anyone reason well, it is not enough to have parts wherewith he is satisfied, and that serve him well enough in his ordinary course. A man in those studies will see, that however good he may think his understanding, yet in many things, and those very visible, it may fail him. This would take off that presumption that most men have of themselves in this part; and they would not be so apt to think their minds wanted no helps to enlarge them, that there could be nothing added to the acuteness and penetration of their understanding.
In The Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 7.
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I have deeply regretted that I did not proceed far enough [as a Cambridge undergraduate] at least to understand something of the great leading principles of mathematics; for men thus endowed seem to have an extra sense.
In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), 'Autobiography', The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887, 1896), Vol. 1, 40.
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I have mentioned mathematics as a way to settle in the mind a habit of reasoning closely and in train; not that I think it necessary that all men should be deep mathematicians, but that, having got the way of reasoning which that study necessarily brings the mind to, they might be able to transfer it to other parts of knowledge, as they shall have occasion. For in all sorts of reasoning, every single argument should be managed as a mathematical demonstration; the connection and dependence of ideas should be followed till the mind is brought to the source on which it bottoms, and observes the coherence all along; …
In The Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 7.
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I have never done anything 'useful'. No discovery of mine has made, or is likely to make, directly or indirectly, for good or ill, the least difference to the amenity of the world... Judged by all practical standards, the value of my mathematical life is nil; and outside mathematics it is trivial anyhow. I have just one chance of escaping a verdict of complete triviality, that I may be judged to have created something worth creating. And that I have created something is undeniable: the question is about its value.
A Mathematician's Apology (1940), 90-1.
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I have no doubt that many small strikes of a hammer will finally have as much effect as one very heavy blow: I say as much in quantity, although they may be different in mode, but in my opinion, everything happens in nature in a mathematical way, and there is no quantity that is not divisible into an infinity of parts; and Force, Movement, Impact etc. are types of quantities.
From the original French, “Ie ne doute point que plusieurs petits coups de Marteau ne fassent enfin autant d’effet qu’vn fort grand coup, ie dis autant en quantité, bien qu’ils puissent estre différents, in modo; mais apud me omnia fiunt Mathematicè in Natura, & il n’y a point de quantité qui ne soit divisible en une infinité de parties; Or la Force, le Mouuement, la Percussion, &c. sont des Especes de quantitez,” in letter (11 Mar 1640) to Père Marin Mersenne (AT III 36), collected in Lettres de Mr Descartes (1659), Vol. 2, 211-212. English version by Webmaster using online resources.
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I have often noticed that when people come to understand a mathematical proposition in some other way than that of the ordinary demonstration, they promptly say, “Oh, I see. That’s how it must be.” This is a sign that they explain it to themselves from within their own system.
Lichtenberg: A Doctrine of Scattered Occasions: Reconstructed From: Reconstructed From His Aphorisms and Reflections (1959), 291.
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I know, indeed, and can conceive of no pursuit so antagonistic to the cultivation of the oratorical faculty … as the study of Mathematics. An eloquent mathematician must, from the nature of things, ever remain as rare a phenomenon as a talking fish, and it is certain that the more anyone gives himself up to the study of oratorical effect the less will he find himself in a fit state to mathematicize.
In Address (22 Feb 1877) for Commemoration Day at Johns Hopkins University. Published as a pamphlet, and reprinted in The Collected Mathematical Papers of James Joseph Sylvester: (1870-1883) (1909), Vol. 3, 72. https://books.google.com/books?id=wgVbAAAAQAAJ James Joseph Sylvester - 1877
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I learnt to distrust all physical concepts as the basis for a theory. Instead one should put one's trust in a mathematical scheme, even if the scheme does not appear at first sight to be connected with physics. One should concentrate on getting interesting mathematics.
From a 1977 lecture. Quoted in Pesi Rustom Masani, Norbert Wiener, 1894-1964 (1990), 6.
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I liked science. I wasn’t mathematically oriented, so I became an organic chemist.
As quoted in Columbia University Press Release, On Campus (21 Feb 2013).
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I love mathematics not only because it is applicable to technology but also because it is beautiful.
In Eberhard Zeidler, Quantum Field Theory (2006), 955.
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I maintain that in every special natural doctrine only so much science proper is to be met with as mathematics; for… science proper, especially [science] of nature, requires a pure portion, lying at the foundation of the empirical, and based upon a priori knowledge of natural things. … To the possibility of a determinate natural thing, and therefore to cognise it à priori, is further requisite that the intuition corresponding à priori to the conception should be given; in other words, that the conception should be constructed. But the cognition of the reason through construction of conceptions is mathematical. A pure philosophy of nature in general, namely, one that only investigates what constitutes a nature in general, may thus be possible without mathematics; but a pure doctrine of nature respecting determinate natural things (corporeal doctrine and mental doctrine), is only possible by means of mathematics; and as in every natural doctrine only so much science proper is to be met with therein as there is cognition à priori, a doctrine of nature can only contain so much science proper as there is in it of applied mathematics.
From Preface to The Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (1786), as translated by Ernest Belford Boax, in Kant’s Prolegomena: And The Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (1883), 140.
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I never could do anything with figures, never had any talent for mathematics, never accomplished anything in my efforts at that rugged study, and to-day the only mathematics I know is multiplication, and the minute I get away up in that, as soon as I reach nine times seven— [He lapsed into deep thought, trying to figure nine times seven. Mr. McKelway whispered the answer to him.] I’ve got it now. It’s eighty-four. Well, I can get that far all right with a little hesitation. After that I am uncertain, and I can’t manage a statistic.
Speech at the New York Association for Promoting the Interests of the Blind (29 Mar 1906). In Mark Twain and William Dean Howells (ed.), Mark Twain’s Speeches? (1910), 323.
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I presume that few who have paid any attention to the history of the Mathematical Analysis, will doubt that it has been developed in a certain order, or that that order has been, to a great extent, necessary—being determined, either by steps of logical deduction, or by the successive introduction of new ideas and conceptions, when the time for their evolution had arrived. And these are the causes that operate in perfect harmony. Each new scientific conception gives occasion to new applications of deductive reasoning; but those applications may be only possible through the methods and the processes which belong to an earlier stage.
Explaining his choice for the exposition in historical order of the topics in A Treatise on Differential Equations (1859), Preface, v-vi.
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I propose to put forward an apology for mathematics; and I may be told that it needs none, since there are now few studies more generally recognized, for good reasons or bad, as profitable and praiseworthy.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 63-64.
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I should like to draw attention to the inexhaustible variety of the problems and exercises which it [mathematics] furnishes; these may be graduated to precisely the amount of attainment which may be possessed, while yet retaining an interest and value. It seems to me that no other branch of study at all compares with mathematics in this. When we propose a deduction to a beginner we give him an exercise in many cases that would have been admired in the vigorous days of Greek geometry. Although grammatical exercises are well suited to insure the great benefits connected with the study of languages, yet these exercises seem to me stiff and artificial in comparison with the problems of mathematics. It is not absurd to maintain that Euclid and Apollonius would have regarded with interest many of the elegant deductions which are invented for the use of our students in geometry; but it seems scarcely conceivable that the great masters in any other line of study could condescend to give a moment’s attention to the elementary books of the beginner.
In Conflict of Studies (1873), 10-11.
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I started studying law, but this I could stand just for one semester. I couldn’t stand more. Then I studied languages and literature for two years. After two years I passed an examination with the result I have a teaching certificate for Latin and Hungarian for the lower classes of the gymnasium, for kids from 10 to 14. I never made use of this teaching certificate. And then I came to philosophy, physics, and mathematics. In fact, I came to mathematics indirectly. I was really more interested in physics and philosophy and thought about those. It is a little shortened but not quite wrong to say: I thought I am not good enough for physics and I am too good for philosophy. Mathematics is in between.
From interview on his 90th birthday. In D J Albers and G L Alexanderson (eds.), Mathematical People: Profiles and Interviews (1985), 245-254.
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I tell them if they will occupy themselves with the study of mathematics they will find in it the best remedy against the lusts of the flesh.
The Magic Mountain (1924, 1965), 417.
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I think it is a peculiarity of myself that I like to play about with equations, just looking for beautiful mathematical relations which maybe don’t have any physical meaning at all. Sometimes they do.
At age 60.
"Interview with T. Kuhn (7 May 1963), Niels Bohr Library, American Intitute of Physics, New York. In A. Pais, 'Playing With Equations, the Dirac Way'. Behram N. Kursunoglu (Ed.) and Eugene Paul Wigner (Ed.), Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac: Reminiscences about a Great Physicist (1990), 109.
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I think it would be desirable that this form of word [mathematics] should be reserved for the applications of the science, and that we should use mathematic in the singular to denote the science itself, in the same way as we speak of logic, rhetoric, or (own sister to algebra) music.
In Presidential Address to the British Association, Exeter British Association Report (1869); Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2, 669.
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I think of myself as a journalist who writes mainly about math and science, and a few other fields of interest.
In Kendrick Frazier, 'A Mind at Play: An Interview with Martin Gardner', Skeptical Inquirer (Mar/Apr 1998), 22, No. 2, 36.
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I think that it is a relatively good approximation to truth—which is much too complicated to allow anything but approximations—that mathematical ideas originate in empirics.
From 'The Mathematician', collected in James Roy Newman (ed.), The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 4, 2063.
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I wanted certainty in the kind of way in which people want religious faith. I thought that certainty is more likely to be found in mathematics than elsewhere. But I discovered that many mathematical demonstrations, which my teachers expected me to accept, were full of fallacies, and that, if certainty were indeed discoverable in mathematics, it would be in a new field of mathematics, with more solid foundations than those that had hitherto been thought secure. But as the work proceeded, I was continually reminded of the fable about the elephant and the tortoise. Having constructed an elephant upon which the mathematical world could rest, I found the elephant tottering, and proceeded to construct a tortoise to keep the elephant from falling. But the tortoise was no more secure than the elephant, and after some twenty years of very arduous toil, I came to the conclusion that there was nothing more that I could do in the way of making mathematical knowledge indubitable.
In 'Reflections on my Eightieth Birthday', Portraits from Memory (1956), 54.
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I was reading in an article on Bizet not long ago that music has ceased to be an art and has become a science—in which event it must have a mathematical future!
In letter to H.E. Krehbiel (1887), collected in Elizabeth Bisland The Writings of Lafcadio Hearn (1922), Vol. 14, 8.
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I was x years old in the year x2.
When asked about his age (43).
Quoted in H. Eves, In Mathematical Circles (1969).
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I will not go so far as to say that to construct a history of thought without profound study of the mathematical ideas of successive epochs is like omitting Hamlet from the play which is named after him. That would be claiming too much. But it is certainly analogous to cutting out the part of Ophelia. This simile is singularly exact. For Ophelia is quite essential to the play, she is very charming-and a little mad. Let us grant that the pursuit of mathematics is a divine madness of the human spirit, a refuge from the goading urgency of contingent happenings.
In Science and the Modern World (1926), 31.
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I would have my son mind and understand business, read little history, study the mathematics and cosmography; these are good, with subordination to the things of God. … These fit for public services for which man is born.
In Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell (1899), Vol. 1, 371.
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I'm sorry to say that the subject I most disliked was mathematics. I have thought about it. I think the reason was that mathematics leaves no room for argument.
Malcolm X
The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965, 1999), 34.
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If a lunatic scribbles a jumble of mathematical symbols it does not follow that the writing means anything merely because to the inexpert eye it is indistinguishable from higher mathematics.
In Men of Mathematics (1937), Vol. 2, 232. Also in J.R. Newman (ed.) The World of Mathematics (1956, 1960), Vol. 1, 308.
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If a man is in any sense a real mathematician, then it is a hundred to one that his mathematics will be far better than anything else he can do, and that it would be silly if he surrendered any decent opportunity of exercising his one talent in order to do undistinguished work in other fields. Such a sacrifice could be justified only by economic necessity of age.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 70.
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If a man's wit be wandering, let him study the mathematics; for in demonstrations, if his wit be called away never so little, he must begin again.
Translation in Francis Bacon, James Spedding (ed.) et al., Works of Francis Bacon (1858) Vol. 6, 498.

If a nonnegative quantity was so small that it is smaller than any given one, then it certainly could not be anything but zero. To those who ask what the infinitely small quantity in mathematics is, we answer that it is actually zero. Hence there are not so many mysteries hidden in this concept as they are usually believed to be. These supposed mysteries have rendered the calculus of the infinitely small quite suspect to many people. Those doubts that remain we shall thoroughly remove in the following pages, where we shall explain this calculus.
…...
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If all sentient beings in the universe disappeared, there would remain a sense in which mathematical objects and theorems would continue to exist even though there would be no one around to write or talk about them. Huge prime numbers would continue to be prime, even if no one had proved them prime.
In When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish: And Other Speculations About This and That (), 124.
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If I feel unhappy, I do mathematics to become happy. If I am happy, I do mathematics to keep happy.
In P. Turán, 'The Work of Alfréd Rényi', Matematikai Lapok (1970), 21, 199-210.
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If one be bird-witted, that is easily distracted and unable to keep his attention as long as he should, mathematics provides a remedy; for in them if the mind be caught away but a moment, the demonstration has to be commenced anew.
In De Augmentis, Bk. 6; Advancement of Learning, Bk. 2.
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If others would but reflect on mathematical truths as deeply and as continuously as I have, they would make my discoveries.
As quoted, without citation, in Eric Temple Bell, Men of Mathematics (1945), 254.
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If others would but reflect on mathematical truths as deeply and continuously as I have, they would make my discoveries.
Quoted in J. R. Newman (ed.), The World of Mathematics (1956).
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If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is.
In speech to first national meeting of the Association for Computing Machinery (1947), as quoted in Franz L. Alt, 'Archaeology of computers: Reminiscences, 1945-1947', Communications of the ACM (Jul 1972), 15, No. 7, 694.
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If physics leads us today to a world view which is essentially mystical, it returns, in a way, to its beginning, 2,500 years ago. ... This time, however, it is not only based on intuition, but also on experiments of great precision and sophistication, and on a rigorous and consistent mathematical formalism.
In The Tao of Physics (1975), 19.
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If scientific reasoning were limited to the logical processes of arithmetic, we should not get very far in our understanding of the physical world. One might as well attempt to grasp the game of poker entirely by the use of the mathematics of probability.
Endless Horizons (1946), 27.
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If the average man in the street were asked to name the benefits derived from sunshine, he would probably say “light and warmth” and there he would stop. But, if we analyse the matter a little more deeply, we will soon realize that sunshine is the one great source of all forms of life and activity on this old planet of ours. … [M]athematics underlies present-day civilization in much the same far-reaching manner as sunshine underlies all forms of life, and that we unconsciously share the benefits conferred by the mathematical achievements of the race just as we unconsciously enjoy the blessings of the sunshine.
From Address (25 Feb 1928) to National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Boston. Abstract published in 'Mathematics and Sunshine', The Mathematics Teacher (May 1928), 21, No. 5, 245.
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If the proof starts from axioms, distinguishes several cases, and takes thirteen lines in the text book … it may give the youngsters the impression that mathematics consists in proving the most obvious things in the least obvious way.
Mathematical Discovery: on Understanding, Learning, and Teaching Problem Solving (1981), 129.
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If there is anything that can bind the heavenly mind of man to this dreary exile of our earthly home and can reconcile us with our fate so that one can enjoy living,—then it is verily the enjoyment of the mathematical sciences and astronomy.
In a letter to his son-in-law, Jakob Bartsch. Quoted in Norman Davidson, Sky Phenomena (2004), 131. Also see Johannes Kepler and Carola Baumgardt (ed.), Johannes Kepler: Life and Letters (1951), 190.
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If there is something very slightly wrong in our definition of the theories, then the full mathematical rigor may convert these errors into ridiculous conclusions.
Feynman Lectures on Gravitation, edited by Brian Hatfield (2002), 21.
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If we compare a mathematical problem with an immense rock, whose interior we wish to penetrate, then the work of the Greek mathematicians appears to us like that of a robust stonecutter, who, with indefatigable perseverance, attempts to demolish the rock gradually from the outside by means of hammer and chisel; but the modern mathematician resembles an expert miner, who first constructs a few passages through the rock and then explodes it with a single blast, bringing to light its inner treasures.
In Die Entwickelung der Mathematik in den letzten Jahrhunderten (1869), 9. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 114. From the original German, “Vergleichen wir ein mathematisches Problem mit einem gewaltigen Felsen, in dessen Inneres wir eindringen wollen, so erscheint die Arbeit der griechischen Mathematiker uns als die eines rüstigen Steinhauers, der mit Hammer und Meissel in unermüdlicher Ausdauer den Felsen langsam von aussen her zu zerbröckeln beginnt; der moderne Mathematiker aber als ein trefflicher Minirer, der diesen Felsen zunächst mit wenigen Gängen durchzieht, von denen aus er dann den Felsblock mit einem gewaltigem Schlage zersprengt und die Schätze des Inneren zu Tage fördert.”
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If we ever establish contact with intelligent aliens living on a planet around a distant star … They would be made of similar atoms to us. They could trace their origins back to the big bang 13.7 billion years ago, and they would share with us the universe's future. However, the surest common culture would be mathematics.
In 'Take Me to Your Mathematician', New Scientist (14 Feb 2009), 201, No. 2695.
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If we go back to our chequer game, the fundamental laws are rules by which the chequers move. Mathematics may be applied in the complex situation to figure out what in given circumstances is a good move to make. But very little mathematics is needed for the simple fundamental character of the basic laws. They can be simply stated in English for chequers.
In The Character of Physical Law (1965), 36.
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If we had a thorough knowledge of all the parts of the seed of any animal (e.g., man), we could from that alone, by reasons entirely mathematical and certain, deduce the whole conformation and figure of each of its members, and, conversely, if we knew several peculiarities of this conformation, we would from those deduce the nature of its seed.
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If we view mathematical speculations with reference to their use, it appears that they should be divided into two classes. To the first belong those which furnish some marked advantage either to common life or to some art, and the value of such is usually determined by the magnitude of this advantage. The other class embraces those speculations which, though offering no direct advantage, are nevertheless valuable in that they extend the boundaries of analysis and increase our resources and skill. Now since many investigations, from which great advantage may be expected, must be abandoned solely because of the imperfection of analysis, no small value should be assigned to those speculations which promise to enlarge the field of anaylsis.
In Novi Comm. Petr., Vol. 4, Preface.
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If we wish to foresee the future of mathematics, our proper course is to study the history and present condition of the science.
Science and Method (1914, 2003), 25.
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If you ask ... the man in the street ... the human significance of mathematics, the answer of the world will be, that mathematics has given mankind a metrical and computatory art essential to the effective conduct of daily life, that mathematics admits of countless applications in engineering and the natural sciences, and finally that mathematics is a most excellent instrumentality for giving mental discipline... [A mathematician will add] that mathematics is the exact science, the science of exact thought or of rigorous thinking.
Address (28 Mar 1912), Michigan School Masters' Club, Ann Arbor, 'The Humanization of the Teaching of Mathematics. Printed in Science (26 Apr 1912). Collected in The Human Worth of Rigorous Thinking: Essays and Addresses (1916), 65-66.
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If you disregard the very simplest cases, there is in all of mathematics not a single infinite series whose sum has been rigorously determined. In other words, the most important parts of mathematics stand without a foundation.
In Letter to a friend, as quoted in George Finlay Simmons, Calculus Gems (1992), 188.
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If you look over my Scientific American columns you will see that they get progressively more sophisticated as I began reading math books and learning more about the subject. There is no better way to learn anything than to write about it!
In Kendrick Frazier, 'A Mind at Play: An Interview with Martin Gardner', Skeptical Inquirer (Mar/Apr 1998), 22, No. 2, 36.
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If you want to be a physicist, you must do three things—first, study mathematics, second, study more mathematics, and third, do the same.
Interview with Paul H. Kirkpatrick, in Daniel J. Kevles, The Physicists (1978), 200.
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If, unwarned by my example, any man shall undertake and shall succeed in really constructing an engine embodying in itself the whole of the executive department of mathematical analysis upon different principles or by simpler mechanical means, I have no fear of leaving my reputation in his charge, for he alone will be fully able to appreciate the nature of my efforts and the value of their results.
In Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (1864), 450.
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Imagination is the Discovering Faculty, pre-eminently. … It is that which feels & discovers what is, the REAL which we see not, which exists not for our senses. … Mathematical science shows what is. It is the language of unseen relations between things. … Imagination too shows what is. … Hence she is or should be especially cultivated by the truly Scientific, those who wish to enter into the worlds around us!
Lovelace Papers, Bodleian Library, Oxford University, 175, folio 199, journal entry for 5 Jan 1841. As quoted and cited in Dorothy Stein (ed.), 'In Time I Will Do All, I Dare Say', Ada: A Life and a Legacy (1985), 128.
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Imagine a person with a gift of ridicule [He might say] First that a negative quantity has no logarithm; secondly that a negative quantity has no square root; thirdly that the first non-existent is to the second as the circumference of a circle is to the diameter.
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In a class I was taking there was one boy who was much older than the rest. He clearly had no motive to work. I told him that, if he could produce for me, accurately to scale, drawings of the pieces of wood required to make a desk like the one he was sitting at, I would try to persuade the Headmaster to let him do woodwork during the mathematics hours—in the course of which, no doubt, he would learn something about measurement and numbers. Next day, he turned up with this task completed to perfection. This I have often found with pupils; it is not so much that they cannot do the work, as that they see no purpose in it.
In Mathematician's Delight (1943), 52.
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In a lot of scientists, the ratio of wonder to skepticism declines in time. That may be connected with the fact that in some fields—mathematics, physics, some others—the great discoveries are almost entirely made by youngsters.
Quoted in interview with magazine staff, Psychology Today (Jan 1996).
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In addition to this it [mathematics] provides its disciples with pleasures similar to painting and music. They admire the delicate harmony of the numbers and the forms; they marvel when a new discovery opens up to them an unexpected vista; and does the joy that they feel not have an aesthetic character even if the senses are not involved at all? … For this reason I do not hesitate to say that mathematics deserves to be cultivated for its own sake, and I mean the theories which cannot be applied to physics just as much as the others.
(1897) From the original French, “Et surtout, leurs adeptes y trouvent des jouissances analogues á celles que donnent la peinture et la musique. Ils admirent la délicate harmonie des nombres et des formes; ils s’émerveillent quand une découverte nouvelle leur ouvre une perspective inattendue; et la joie qu’ils éprouvent ainsi n’a-t-elle pas le caractère esthétique, bien que les sens n’y prennent aucune part?...C’est pourquoi je n’hésite pas à dire que les mathématiques méritent d’être cultivées pour elles-mêmes et que les théories qui ne peuvent être appliquées á la physique doivent l’être comme les autres.” Address read for him at the First International Congress of Mathematicians in Zurich: '‘Sur les rapports de l’analyse pure et de la physique', in Proceedings of that Congress 81-90, (1898). Also published as 'L’Analyse et la Physique', in La Valeur de la Science (1905), 137-151. As translated in Armand Borel, 'On the Place of Mathematics in Culture', in Armand Borel: Œvres: Collected Papers (1983), Vol. 4, 420-421.
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In all that has to do with the relations between man and the supernatural, we have to seek for a more than mathematical precision; this should be more exact than science.
In Gravity and Grace, (1947, 1952), 186.
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In destroying the predisposition to anger, science of all kind is useful; but the mathematics possess this property in the most eminent degree.
Quoted in Day, Collacon (no date).
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In early times, medicine was an art, which took its place at the side of poetry and painting; to-day, they try to make a science of it, placing it beside mathematics, astronomy, and physics.
In Armand Trousseau and John Rose Cormack (trans.), Lectures on Clinical Medicine: Delivered at the Hôtel-Dieu, Paris (1869), Vol. 2, 40.
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In every department of physical science there is only so much science, properly so-called, as there is mathematics.
…...
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In fact, Gentlemen, no geometry without arithmetic, no mechanics without geometry... you cannot count upon success, if your mind is not sufficiently exercised on the forms and demonstrations of geometry, on the theories and calculations of arithmetic ... In a word, the theory of proportions is for industrial teaching, what algebra is for the most elevated mathematical teaching.
... a l'ouverture du cours de mechanique industrielle á Metz (1827), 2-3, trans. Ivor Grattan-Guinness.
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In his wretched life of less than twenty-seven years Abel accomplished so much of the highest order that one of the leading mathematicians of the Nineteenth Century (Hermite, 1822-1901) could say without exaggeration, “Abel has left mathematicians enough to keep them busy for five hundred years.” Asked how he had done all this in the six or seven years of his working life, Abel replied, “By studying the masters, not the pupils.”
The Queen of the Sciences (1931, 1938), 10.
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In many cases, mathematics is an escape from reality.
In Adventures of a Mathematician (1976), 120. Part of a longer quote that begins: “In many cases, mathematics…” on the Stanislaw Ulam Quotes page of this website.
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In many cases, mathematics is an escape from reality. The mathematician finds his own monastic niche and happiness in pursuits that are disconnected from external affairs. Some practice it as if using a drug. Chess sometimes plays a similar role. In their unhappiness over the events of this world, some immerse themselves in a kind of self-sufficiency in mathematics. (Some have engaged in it for this reason alone.)
In Adventures of a Mathematician (1976), 120.
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In mathematical analysis we call x the undetermined part of line a: the rest we don’t call y, as we do in common life, but a-x. Hence mathematical language has great advantages over the common language.
Lichtenberg: A Doctrine of Scattered Occasions: Reconstructed From: Reconstructed From His Aphorisms and Reflections (1959), 158.
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In mathematics ... we find two tendencies present. On the one hand, the tendency towards abstraction seeks to crystallise the logical relations inherent in the maze of materials ... being studied, and to correlate the material in a systematic and orderly
Geometry and the imagination (New York, 1952).
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In mathematics as in other fields, to find one self lost in wonder at some manifestation is frequently the half of a new discovery.
In Werke, Bd. 8 (1897), 233.
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In mathematics it is notorious that we start from absurdities to reach a realm of law, and our whole (mathematical) conception of the world is based on a foundation which we believe to have no existence.
In The Dance of Life (1923), 86.
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In mathematics it [sophistry] had no place from the beginning: Mathematicians having had the wisdom to define accurately the terms they use, and to lay down, as axioms, the first principles on which their reasoning is grounded. Accordingly we find no parties among mathematicians, and hardly any disputes.
In Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man, Essay 1, chap. 1.
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In mathematics there are no true controversies. (1811)
This quote is usually seen without any specific source citation. The sense of it is given, not in quotation marks, as “In 1811 Gauss stated that there are no true controversies in mathematics,” in G. Waldo Dunnington, Jeremy Gray and Fritz-Egbert Dohse, Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science (2003), 418. If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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In mathematics there is no ignorabimus!
This is part of a longer quote that begins, “This conviction of the solvability…”, which has the full citation. See the David Hilbert Quotes page on this website. Note that ignorabimus (first-person plural future active indicative of the Latin verb ignoro) refers to the future: “we will not know” or “we will not be ignorant of”. Compare ignoramus, (first-person plural present active indicative of ignoro) meaning in the present, “we do not know” or “we are ignorant of”.
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In mathematics we find the primitive source of rationality; and to mathematics must the biologists resort for means to carry out their researches.
The Positive Philosophy, trans. Harriet Martineau (1853), Vol. 1, 388.

In Mathematics, censorship and criticism can not be allowed to everyone; the speeches of the rhetoricians and the defenses of the lawyers are worthless.
From In Artem Analyticem Isagoge (1591, “Introduction to the Analytic Arts”), translated from the original Latin to French in Édouard Lucas, Récréations Mathématiques (1883), Vol. 2, 1, given as, “Dans les Mathématiques, la censure et la critique ne peuvent être permises à tout le monde; les discours des rhéteurs et les défenses des avocats n’y valent rien.” English version from the French by Webmaster using Google translate.
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In mathematics, fractions speak louder than words.
Anonymous
In Evan Esar, 20,000 Quips and Quotes, 509.
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In mathematics, if a pattern occurs, we can go on to ask, Why does it occur? What does it signify? And we can find answers to these questions. In fact, for every pattern that appears, a mathematician feels he ought to know why it appears.
in Prelude to mathematics (1955), 23.
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In mathematics, which is but a mirror of the society in which it thrives or suffers, the pre-Athenian period is one of colorful men and important discoveries. Sparta, like most militaristic states before and after it, produced nothing. Athens, and the allied Ionians, produced a number of works by philosophers and mathematicians; some good, some controversial, some grossly overrated.
In A History of Pi (1970), 34.
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In modern times the belief that the ultimate explanation of all things was to be found in Newtonian mechanics was an adumbration of the truth that all science, as it grows towards perfection, becomes mathematical in its ideas.
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 13-14. [To suggest, disclose, or outline partially, produces an “adumbration”, which gives only the main facts and not the details. —Webmaster]
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In most sciences one generation tears down what another has built, and what one has established, another undoes. In mathematics alone each generation adds a new storey to the old structure.
In Die Entwickelung der Mathematik in den letzten Jahrhunderten (1869), 34. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 14. From the original German, “In den meisten Wissenschaften pflegt eine Generation das niederzureissen, was die andere gebaut, und was jene gesetzt, hebt diese auf. In der Mathematik allein setzt jede Generation ein neues Stockwerk auf den alten Unterbau.”
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In my opinion the English excel in the art of writing text-books for mathematical teaching; as regards the clear exposition of theories and the abundance of excellent examples, carefully selected, very few books exist in other countries which can compete with those of Salmon and many other distinguished English authors that could be named.
In Projective Geometry (1886), Preface.
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In one word he told me the secret of success in mathematics: plagiarize only be sure always to call it please research.
In lyrics of his song 'Lobachevski' recorded on his first album Songs by Tom Lehrer (1953). First performed as part a musical revue, The Physical Revue (1951–1952).
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In order to comprehend and fully control arithmetical concepts and methods of proof, a high degree of abstraction is necessary, and this condition has at times been charged against arithmetic as a fault. I am of the opinion that all other fields of knowledge require at least an equally high degree of abstraction as mathematics,—provided, that in these fields the foundations are also everywhere examined with the rigour and completeness which is actually necessary.
In 'Die Theorie der algebraischen Zahlkorper', Vorwort, Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung, Bd. 4.
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In order to translate a sentence from English into French two things are necessary. First, we must understand thoroughly the English sentence. Second, we must be familiar with the forms of expression peculiar to the French language. The situation is very similar when we attempt to express in mathematical symbols a condition proposed in words. First, we must understand thoroughly the condition. Second, we must be familiar with the forms of mathematical expression.
In How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method (2004), 174.
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In other branches of science, where quick publication seems to be so much desired, there may possibly be some excuse for giving to the world slovenly or ill-digested work, but there is no such excuse in mathematics. The form ought to be as perfect as the substance, and the demonstrations as rigorous as those of Euclid. The mathematician has to deal with the most exact facts of Nature, and he should spare no effort to render his interpretation worthy of his subject, and to give to his work its highest degree of perfection. “Pauca sed matura” was Gauss’s motto.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section A, (1890), Nature, 42, 467. [The Latin motto translates as “Few, but ripe”. —Webmaster]
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In our century the conceptions substitution and substitution group, transformation and transformation group, operation and operation group, invariant, differential invariant and differential parameter, appear more and more clearly as the most important conceptions of mathematics.
In Lapziger Berichte, No. 47 (1896), 261.
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In presenting a mathematical argument the great thing is to give the educated reader the chance to catch on at once to the momentary point and take details for granted: his successive mouthfuls should be such as can be swallowed at sight; in case of accidents, or in case he wishes for once to check in detail, he should have only a clearly circumscribed little problem to solve (e.g. to check an identity: two trivialities omitted can add up to an impasse). The unpractised writer, even after the dawn of a conscience, gives him no such chance; before he can spot the point he has to tease his way through a maze of symbols of which not the tiniest suffix can be skipped.
In A Mathematician's Miscellany (1953). Reissued as Béla Bollobás (ed.), Littlewood’s Miscellany (1986), 49.
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In pure mathematics we have a great structure of logically perfect deductions which constitutes an integral part of that great and enduring human heritage which is and should be largely independent of the perhaps temporary existence of any particular geographical location at any particular time. … The enduring value of mathematics, like that of the other sciences and arts, far transcends the daily flux of a changing world. In fact, the apparent stability of mathematics may well be one of the reasons for its attractiveness and for the respect accorded it.
In Fundamentals of Mathematics (1941), 463.
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In scientific thought we adopt the simplest theory which will explain all the facts under consideration and enable us to predict new facts of the same kind. The catch in this criterion lies in the world “simplest.” It is really an aesthetic canon such as we find implicit in our criticisms of poetry or painting. The layman finds such a law as dx/dt = κ(d²x/dy²) much less simple than “it oozes,” of which it is the mathematical statement. The physicist reverses this judgment, and his statement is certainly the more fruitful of the two, so far as prediction is concerned. It is, however, a statement about something very unfamiliar to the plain man, namely the rate of change of a rate of change.
In 'Science and Theology as Art-Forms', Possible Worlds (1927), 227.
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In the beginning (if there was such a thing), God created Newton’s laws of motion together with the necessary masses and forces. This is all; everything beyond this follows from the development of appropriate mathematical methods by means of deduction.
Autobiographical Notes (1946), 19. In Albert Einstein, Alice Calaprice, Freeman Dyson , The Ultimate Quotable Einstein (2011), 397.
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In the company of friends, writers can discuss their books, economists the state of the economy, lawyers their latest cases, and businessmen their latest acquisitions, but mathematicians cannot discuss their mathematics at all. And the more profound their work, the less understandable it is.
Reflections: Mathematics and Creativity', New Yorker (1972), 47, No. 53, 39-45. In Douglas M. Campbell, John C. Higgins (eds.), Mathematics: People, Problems, Results (1984), Vol. 2, 7.
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In the last two months I have been very busy with my own mathematical speculations, which have cost me much time, without my having reached my original goal. Again and again I was enticed by the frequently interesting prospects from one direction to the other, sometimes even by will-o'-the-wisps, as is not rare in mathematic speculations.
Letter to Ernst Weber (21 May 1843). Quoted in G. Waldo Dunnington, Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science (2004), 416.
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In the mathematical investigations I have usually employed such methods as present themselves naturally to a physicist. The pure mathematician will complain, and (it must be confessed) sometimes with justice, of deficient rigour. But to this question there are two sides. For, however important it may be to maintain a uniformly high standard in pure mathematics, the physicist may occasionally do well to rest content with arguments which are fairly satisfactory and conclusive from his point of view. To his mind, exercised in a different order of ideas, the more severe procedure of the pure mathematician may appear not more but less demonstrative. And further, in many cases of difficulty to insist upon the highest standard would mean the exclusion of the subject altogether in view of the space that would be required.
In Preface to second edition, The Theory of Sound (1894), Vol. 1, vii.
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In the mathematics I can report no deficience, except it be that men do not sufficiently understand this excellent use of the pure mathematics, in that they do remedy and cure many defects in the wit and faculties intellectual. For if the wit be too dull, they sharpen it; if too wandering, they fix it; if too inherent in the sense, they abstract it. So that as tennis is a game of no use in itself, but of great use in respect it maketh a quick eye and a body ready to put itself into all postures, so in the mathematics that use which is collateral and intervenient is no less worthy than that which is principal and intended.
The Advancement of Learning (1605), Book 2. Reprinted in The Two Books of Francis Bacon: Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning, Divine and Human (2009), 97.
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In the social equation, the value of a single life is nil; in the cosmic equation, it is infinite… Not only communism, but any political movement which implicitly relies on purely utilitarian ethics, must become a victim to the same fatal error. It is a fallacy as naïve as a mathematical teaser, and yet its consequences lead straight to Goya’s Disasters, to the reign of the guillotine, the torture chambers of the Inquisition, or the cellars of the Lubianka.
In 'The Invisible Writing', Arrow in the Blue: An Autobiography (1952), Vol. 2, 357.
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In this respect mathematics fails to reproduce with complete fidelity the obvious fact that experience is not composed of static bits, but is a string of activity, or the fact that the use of language is an activity, and the total meanings of terms are determined by the matrix in which they are embedded.
In The Nature of Physical Theory (1936), 58.
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In [great mathematics] there is a very high degree of unexpectedness, combined with inevitability and economy.
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, reprint with Foreward by C.P. Snow 1992), 113.

Indeed the modern developments of mathematics constitute not only one of the most impressive, but one of the most characteristic, phenomena of our age. It is a phenomenon, however, of which the boasted intelligence of a “universalized” daily press seems strangely unaware; and there is no other great human interest, whether of science or of art, regarding which the mind of the educated public is permitted to hold so many fallacious opinions and inferior estimates.
In Lectures on Science, Philosophy and Arts (1908), 8.
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Induction and analogy are the special characteristics of modern mathematics, in which theorems have given place to theories and no truth is regarded otherwise than as a link in an infinite chain. “Omne exit in infinitum” is their favorite motto and accepted axiom.
In 'A Plea for the Mathematician', Nature, Vol. 1, 861. [The Latin phrase “Omne exit in infinitum” means “Everything goes to infinity”.
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Insofar as mathematics is about reality, it is not certain, and insofar as it is certain, it is not about reality.
…...
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Integers are the fountainhead of all mathematics.
In Diophantische Approximationen, Preface. As cited in Claudi Alsina and Roger B. Nelsen, Charming Proofs: A Journey into Elegant Mathematics (2011), 1.
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Is there perhaps some magical power in the subject [mathematics] that, although it had fought under the invincible banner of truth, has actually achieved its victories through some inner mysterious strength?
…...
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It always bothers me that according to the laws as we understand them today, it takes a computing machine an infinite number of logical operations to figure out what goes on in no matter how tiny a region of space and no matter how tiny a region of time … I have often made the hypothesis that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement, that in the end the machinery will be revealed and the laws will turn out to be simple, like the chequer board with all its apparent complexities. But this speculation is of the same nature as those other people make—“I like it”,“I don't like it”—and it is not good to be too prejudiced about these things.
In The Character of Physical Law (1965, 2001), 57.
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It becomes the urgent duty of mathematicians, therefore, to meditate about the essence of mathematics, its motivations and goals and the ideas that must bind divergent interests together.
In 'Mathematics in the Modern World', Scientific American (Sep 1964) 211, No. 3, 42. Collected in Ronald J. Comer and Morris Kline, Mathematics in the Modern World: Readings from Scientific American (1988), 20.
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It has been proposed (in despair) to define mathematics as “what mathematicians do.” Only such a broad definition, it was felt, would cover all the things that might become embodied in mathematics; for mathematicians today attack many problems not regarded as mathematics in the past, and what they will do in the future there is no saying.
In 'The Extent of Mathematics', Prelude to Mathematics (1955), 11.
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It is a common observation that a science first begins to be exact when it is quantitatively treated. What are called the exact sciences are no others than the mathematical ones.
On The Doctrine of Chances, with Later Reflections (1878), 61.
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It is a great pity Aristotle had not understood mathematics as well as Mr. Newton, and made use of it in his natural philosophy with good success: his example had then authorized the accommodating of it to material things.
In Second Reply to the Bishop of Worcester.
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It is a mathematical fact that the casting of a pebble from my hand alters the centre of gravity of the universe.
In James Wood, Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893), 190:1.
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It is a safe rule to apply that, when a mathematical or philosophical author writes with a misty profoundity, he is talking nonsense.
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 227.
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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 always noteworthy that all those who seriously study this science [the theory of numbers] conceive a sort of passion for it.
Letter to Jonos Boyai (2 Sep 1808). Quoted in G. Waldo Dunnington, Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science (2004), 413.
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It is an obvious and imperative duty of every teacher of mathematics to study the masterpieces of mathematical literature.
In A Preface to Mathematics (1938), 76.
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It is by mathematical formulation of its observations and measurements that a science is able to form mathematically expressed hypotheses, and it is through its hypotheses that a natural science is able to make predictions.
The Nature of Science, and Other Essays (1971), 14.
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It is by no means hopeless to expect to make a machine for really very difficult mathematical problems. But you would have to proceed step-by-step. I think electricity would be the best thing to rely on.
In Charles Sanders Peirce, Max Harold Fisch, Christian J. W. Kloesel Writings of Charles S. Peirce: 1884-1886 (1993), 422.
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It is certainly true that all physical phenomena are subject to strictly mathematical conditions, and mathematical processes are unassailable in themselves. The trouble arises from the data employed. Most phenomena are so highly complex that one can never be quite sure that he is dealing with all the factors until the experiment proves it. So that experiment is rather the criterion of mathematical conclusions and must lead the way.
In Matter, Ether, Motion (1894), 89.
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It is customary in physics to take geometry for granted, as if it were a branch of mathematics. But in substance geometry is the noblest branch of physics.
In Introduction to the Calculus (1922), 348, footnote.
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It is difficult even to attach a precise meaning to the term “scientific truth.” So different is the meaning of the word “truth” according to whether we are dealing with a fact of experience, a mathematical proposition or a scientific theory. “Religious truth” conveys nothing clear to me at all.
From 'Scientific Truth' in Essays in Science (1934, 2004), 11.
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It is difficult to give an idea of the vast extent of modern mathematics. The word “extent” is not the right one: I mean extent crowded with beautiful detail—not an extent of mere uniformity such as an objectless plain, but of a tract of beautiful country seen at first in the distance, but which will bear to be rambled through and studied in every detail of hillside and valley, stream, rock, wood, and flower.
President’s address (1883) to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, in The Collected Mathematical Papers (1895), Vol. 8, xxii.
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It is easy to make out three areas where scientists will be concentrating their efforts in the coming decades. One is in physics, where leading theorists are striving, with the help of experimentalists, to devise a single mathematical theory that embraces all the basic phenomena of matter and energy. The other two are in biology. Biologists—and the rest of us too—would like to know how the brain works and how a single cell, the fertilized egg cell, develops into an entire organism
Article 'The View From Mars', in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences: Research Facilities of the Future (1994), 735, 37.
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It is exceptional that one should be able to acquire the understanding of a process without having previously acquired a deep familiarity with running it, with using it, before one has assimilated it in an instinctive and empirical way. Thus any discussion of the nature of intellectual effort in any field is difficult, unless it presupposes an easy, routine familiarity with that field. In mathematics this limitation becomes very severe.
In 'The Mathematician', Works of the Mind (1947), 1, No. 1. Collected in James Roy Newman (ed.), The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 4, 2053.
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It is from this absolute indifference and tranquility of the mind, that mathematical speculations derive some of their most considerable advantages; because there is nothing to interest the imagination; because the judgment sits free and unbiased to examine the point. All proportions, every arrangement of quantity, is alike to the understanding, because the same truths result to it from all; from greater from lesser, from equality and inequality.
In On the Sublime and Beautiful, Part 3, sect. 2.
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It is hard to know what you are talking about in mathematics, yet no one questions the validity of what you say. There is no other realm of discourse half so queer.
In J.R. Newman (ed.), 'Commentary on The Foundations of Mathematics', The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 3, 1614.
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It is here [in mathematics] that the artist has the fullest scope of his imagination.
In The Dance of Life (1923), 138-139.
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It is interesting thus to follow the intellectual truths of analysis in the phenomena of nature. This correspondence, of which the system of the world will offer us numerous examples, makes one of the greatest charms attached to mathematical speculations.
Exposition du système du monde (1799)
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It is mathematics that offers the exact natural sciences a certain measure of security which, without mathematics, they could not attain.
…...
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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 only a decided preference for synthesis and a complete denial of general methods which characterizes the ancient mathematics as against our newer Science [modern mathematics]: besides this extemal formal difference there is another real, more deeply seated, contrast, which arises from the different attitudes which the two assumed relative to the use of the concept of variability. For while the ancients, on account of considerations which had been transmitted to them from the Philosophie school of the Eleatics, never employed the concept of motion, the spatial expression for variability, in their rigorous system, and made incidental use of it only in the treatment of phonoromically generated curves, modern geometry dates from the instant that Descartes left the purely algebraic treatment of equations and proceeded to investigate the variations which an algebraic expression undergoes when one of its variables assumes a continuous succession of values.
In 'Untersuchungen über die unendlich oft oszillierenden und unstetigen Functionen', Ostwald’s Klassiker der exacten Wissenschaften (1905), No. 153, 44-45. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 115. From the original German, “Nicht allein entschiedene Vorliebe für die Synthese und gänzliche Verleugnung allgemeiner Methoden charakterisiert die antike Mathematik gegenüber unserer neueren Wissenschaft; es gibt neben diesem mehr äußeren, formalen, noch einen tiefliegenden realen Gegensatz, welcher aus der verschiedenen Stellung entspringt, in welche sich beide zu der wissenschaftlichen Verwendung des Begriffes der Veränderlichkeit gesetzt haben. Denn während die Alten den Begriff der Bewegung, des räumlichen Ausdruckes der Veränderlichkeit, aus Bedenken, die aus der philosophischen Schule der Eleaten auf sie übergegangen waren, in ihrem strengen Systeme niemals und auch in der Behandlung phoronomisch erzeugter Kurven nur vorübergehend verwenden, so datiert die neuere Mathematik von dem Augenblicke, als Descartes von der rein algebraischen Behandlung der Gleichungen dazu fortschritt, die Größenveränderungen zu untersuchen, welche ein algebraischer Ausdruck erleidet, indem eine in ihm allgemein bezeichnete Größe eine stetige Folge von Werten durchläuft.”
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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 now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is still forbidden to resort to physics and chemistry.
…...
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It is only in mathematics, and to some extent in poetry, that originality may be attained at an early age, but even then it is very rare (Newton and Keats are examples), and it is not notable until adolescence is completed.
In A Study of British Genius (1904), 142
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It is perplexing to see the flexibility of the so-called 'exact sciences' which by cast-iron laws of logic and by the infallible help of mathematics can lead to conclusions which are diametrically opposite to one another.
In The Nature of Light: an Historical Survey (1970), 229
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It is probably no exaggeration to suppose that in order to improve such an organ as the eye at all, it must be improved in ten different ways at once. And the improbability of any complex organ being produced and brought to perfection in any such way is an improbability of the same kind and degree as that of producing a poem or a mathematical demonstration by throwing letters at random on a table.
[Expressing his reservations about Darwin's proposed evolution of the eye by natural selection.]
Opening address to the Belfast Natural History Society, as given in the 'Belfast Northern Whig,' (19 Nov 1866). As cited by Charles Darwin in The Variation of Animals & Plants Under Domestication (1868), 222.
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It is said of Jacobi, that he attracted the particular attention and friendship of Böckh, the director of the philological seminary at Berlin, by the great talent he displayed for philology, and only at the end of two years’ study at the University, and after a severe mental struggle, was able to make his final choice in favor of mathematics.
In Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 2 (1908), 661.
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It is the invaluable merit of the great Basle mathematician Leonhard Euler, to have freed the analytical calculus from all geometric bounds, and thus to have established analysis as an independent science, which from his time on has maintained an unchallenged leadership in the field of mathematics.
In Die Entwickelung der Mathematik in den letzten Jahrhunderten (1884), 12. As quoted and cited in In Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 153. Seen incorrectly attributed to Thomas Reid in N. Rose, Mathematical and Maxims and Minims (1988).
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It is the merest truism, evident at once to unsophisticated observation, that mathematics is a human invention.
In The Logic of Modern Physics (1927, 1972), 60.
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It is the perennial youthfulness of mathematics itself which marks it off with a disconcerting immortality from the other sciences.
In The Queen of the Sciences (1938), 5.
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It is the structure of the universe that has taught this knowledge to man. That structure is an ever existing exhibition of every principle upon which every part of mathematical science is founded. The offspring of this science is mechanics; for mechanics are no other than the principles of science appplied practically.
In The Age of Reason: Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology (27 Jan O.S. 1794), 42.
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It is through it [intuition] that the mathematical world remains in touch with the real world, and even if pure mathematics could do without it, we should still have to have recourse to it to fill up the gulf that separates the symbol from reality.
…...
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It is true that Fourier had the opinion that the principal end of mathematics was public utility and the explanation of natural phenomena; but a philosopher as he is should have known that the unique end of science is the honor of the human mind and that from this point of view a question of [the theory of] number is as important as a question of the system of the world.
From letter to Legendre, translation as given in F.R. Moulton, 'The Influence of Astronomy on Mathematics', Science (10 Mar 1911), N.S. Vol. 33, No. 845, 359. A different translation begins, “It is true that M. Fourier believed…” on the Karl Jacobi Quotes web page on this site.
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It is true that M. Fourier believed that the main aim of mathematics was public utility and the explanation of natural phenomena; but a philosopher of his ability ought to have known that the sole aim of science is the honour of the human intellect, and that on this ground a problem in numbers is as important as a problem on the system of the world.
In Letter to Legendre, as quoted in an Address by Emile Picard to the Congress of Science and Art, St. Louis (22 Sep 1904), translated in 'Development of Mathematical Analysis', The Mathematical Gazette (Jul 1905), 3, No. 52, 200. A different translation begins, “It is true that Fourier had the opinion…” on the Karl Jacobi Quotes web page on this site.
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It is unsafe to talk mathematics. Folks don’t understand.
Martin H. Fischer, Howard Fabing (ed.) and Ray Marr (ed.), Fischerisms (1944), 3.
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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.
The Positive Philosophy, trans. Harriet Martineau (1853), Vol.1, 33.

It often happens that men, even of the best understandings and greatest circumspection, are guilty of that fault in reasoning which the writers on logick call the insufficient, or imperfect enumeration of parts, or cases: insomuch that I will venture to assert, that this is the chief, and almost the only, source of the vast number of erroneous opinions, and those too very often in matters of great importance, which we are apt to form on all the subjects we reflect upon, whether they relate to the knowledge of nature, or the merits and motives of human actions. It must therefore be acknowledged, that the art which affords a cure to this weakness, or defect, of our understandings, and teaches us to enumerate all the possible ways in which a given number of things may be mixed and combined together, that we may be certain that we have not omitted anyone arrangement of them that can lead to the object of our inquiry, deserves to be considered as most eminently useful and worthy of our highest esteem and attention. And this is the business of the art, or doctrine of combinations ... It proceeds indeed upon mathematical principles in calculating the number of the combinations of the things proposed: but by the conclusions that are obtained by it, the sagacity of the natural philosopher, the exactness of the historian, the skill and judgement of the physician, and the prudence and foresight of the politician, may be assisted; because the business of all these important professions is but to form reasonable conjectures concerning the several objects which engage their attention, and all wise conjectures are the results of a just and careful examination of the several different effects that may possibly arise from the causes that are capable of producing them.
Ars conjectandi (1713). In F. Maseres, The Doctrine of Permutations and Combinations (1795), 36.
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It seems perfectly clear that Economy, if it is to be a science at all, must be a mathematical science. There exists much prejudice against attempts to introduce the methods and language of mathematics into any branch of the moral sciences. Most persons appear to hold that the physical sciences form the proper sphere of mathematical method, and that the moral sciences demand some other method—I know not what.
The Theory of Political Economy (1871), 3.
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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 would be difficult and perhaps foolhardy to analyze the chances of further progress in almost every part of mathematics one is stopped by unsurmountable difficulties, improvements in the details seem to be the only possibilities which are left… All these difficulties seem to announce that the power of our analysis is almost exhausted, even as the power of ordinary algebra with regard to transcendental geometry in the time of Leibniz and Newton, and that there is a need of combinations opening a new field to the calculation of transcendental quantities and to the solution of the equations including them.
From Rapport historique sur les progrès des sciences mathématiques depuis 1789, et sur leur état actuel (1810), 131. As translated in George Sarton, The Study of the History of Mathematics (1936), 13. In the original French: “Il seroit difficile et peut-être téméraire d’analyser les chances que l’avenir offre à l’avancement des mathématiques: dans presque toutes les parties, on est arrêté par des difficultés insurmontables; des perfectionnements de détail semblent la seule chose qui reste à faire… Toutes ces difficultés semblent annoncer que la puissance de notre analyse est à-peu-près épuisée, comme celle de l’algèbre ordinaire l’étoit par rapport à la géométrie transcendante au temps de Leibnitz et de Newton, et qu’il faut des combinaisons qui ouvrent un nouveau champ au calcul des transcendantes et à la résolution des équations qui les contiennent.” Sarton states this comes from “the report on mathematical progress prepared for the French Academy of Sciences at Napoleon’s request”.
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It would be rash to say that nothing remains for discovery or improvement even in elementary mathematics, but it may be safely asserted that the ground has been so long and so thoroughly explored as to hold out little hope of profitable return for a casual adventurer.
In 'Private Study of Mathematics', Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 73.
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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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It’s important for students to be put in touch with real-world problems. The curriculum should include computer science. Mathematics should include statistics. The curriculums should really adjust.
From address at a conference on Google campus, co-hosted with Common Sense Media and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop 'Breakthrough Learning in the Digital Age'. As quoted in Technology blog report by Dan Fost, 'Google co-founder Sergey Brin wants more computers in schools', Los Angeles Times (28 Oct 2009). On latimesblogs.latimes.com website. As quoted, without citation, in Can Akdeniz, Fast MBA (2014), 280.
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John Bahcall, an astronomer on the Institute of Advanced Study faculty since 1970 likes to tell the story of his first faculty dinner, when he found himself seated across from Kurt Gödel, … a man dedicated to logic and the clean certainties of mathematical abstraction. Bahcall introduced himself and mentioned that he was a physicist. Gödel replied, “I don’t believe in natural science.”
As stated in Adam Begley, 'The Lonely Genius Club', New York Magazine (30 Jan 1995), 63.
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Just as mathematics aims to study such entities as numbers, functions, spaces, etc., the subject matter of metamathematics is mathematics itself.
In 'Mathematics: A Non-Technical Exposition', American Scientist (3 Jul 1954), 42, No. 3, 490.
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Just by studying mathematics we can hope to make a guess at the kind of mathematics that will come into the physics of the future ... If someone can hit on the right lines along which to make this development, it m may lead to a future advance in which people will first discover the equations and then, after examining them, gradually learn how to apply the ... My own belief is that this is a more likely line of progress than trying to guess at physical pictures.
'The Evolution of the Physicist's Picture of Nature', Scientific American, May 1963, 208, 47. In Steve Adams, Frontiers (2000), 57.
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Kant, discussing the various modes of perception by which the human mind apprehends nature, concluded that it is specially prone to see nature through mathematical spectacles. Just as a man wearing blue spectacles would see only a blue world, so Kant thought that, with our mental bias, we tend to see only a mathematical world.
In The Mysterious Universe (1930), 115.
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Lagrange, in one of the later years of his life, imagined that he had overcome the difficulty (of the parallel axiom). He went so far as to write a paper, which he took with him to the Institute, and began to read it. But in the first paragraph something struck him that he had not observed: he muttered: 'Il faut que j'y songe encore', and put the paper in his pocket.' [I must think about it again]
Budget of Paradoxes (1872), 173.
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Laplace would have found it child's-play to fix a ratio of progression in mathematical science between Descartes, Leibnitz, Newton and himself
The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography? (1918), 491.
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Leaving those [exercises] of the Body, I shall proceed to such Recreations as adorn the Mind; of which those of the Mathematicks are inferior to none.
In Pleasure with Profit: Consisting of Recreations of Divers Kinds (1694), v.
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Leibnitz believed he saw the image of creation in his binary arithmetic in which he employed only two characters, unity and zero. Since God may be represented by unity, and nothing by zero, he imagined that the Supreme Being might have drawn all things from nothing, just as in the binary arithmetic all numbers are expressed by unity with zero. This idea was so pleasing to Leibnitz, that he communicated it to the Jesuit Grimaldi, President of the Mathematical Board of China, with the hope that this emblem of the creation might convert to Christianity the reigning emperor who was particularly attached to the sciences.
In 'Essai Philosophique sur les Probabiliés', Oeuvres (1896), t. 7, 119.
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Let us now discuss the extent of the mathematical quality in Nature. According to the mechanistic scheme of physics or to its relativistic modification, one needs for the complete description of the universe not merely a complete system of equations of motion, but also a complete set of initial conditions, and it is only to the former of these that mathematical theories apply. The latter are considered to be not amenable to theoretical treatment and to be determinable only from observation.
From Lecture delivered on presentation of the James Scott prize, (6 Feb 1939), 'The Relation Between Mathematics And Physics', printed in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1938-1939), 59, Part 2, 125.
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Life is good for only two things: to do mathematics and to teach it.
From François Arago, 'Mort de Poisson', Œvres Complètes de François Arago (1854), Vol.2, 662, translated by Webmaster from the original French, “La vie n’est bonne qu’à deux choses: à faire des mathématiques et à les professer.” Quote introduced by Arago as “Poisson … avait l’habitude de dire” (“Poisson … used to say”). Also seen in a book of quotes, Alphonse Rebière (ed.), Mathématiques et Mathématiciens: Pensées et Curiosités (1893), 158, as “La vie n’est bonne qu'à étudier et à enseigner les mathématiques”, which Webmaster translates as “Life is good only to study and to teach mathematics”. Also currently found online as “La vie n’est bonne que pour deux choses: découvrir les mathématiques et enseigner les mathématiques”, translated as “Life is good for only two things, discovering mathematics and teaching mathematics”, in Howard Whitley Eves, Mathematical Circles Adieu: A Fourth Collection of Mathematical Stories and Anecdotes (1977), 22. Arago was a contemporary of Poisson, and Webmaster speculates from the context of the biography that perhaps Arago knew the quote firsthand from Poisson. Webmaster has not yet been able to trace either version to a primary source written by Poisson. (Can you help?)
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Like almost every subject of human interest, this one [mathematics] is just as easy or as difficult as we choose to make it. A lifetime may be spent by a philosopher in discussing the truth of the simplest axiom. The simplest fact as to our existence may fill us with such wonder that our minds will remain overwhelmed with wonder all the time. A Scotch ploughman makes a working religion out of a system which appalls a mental philosopher. Some boys of ten years of age study the methods of the differential calculus; other much cleverer boys working at mathematics to the age of nineteen have a difficulty in comprehending the fundamental ideas of the calculus.
In Teaching of Mathematics (1902), 19-20.
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Like Molière’s M. Jourdain, who spoke prose all his life without knowing it, mathematicians have been reasoning for at least two millennia without being aware of all the principles underlying what they were doing. The real nature of the tools of their craft has become evident only within recent times A renaissance of logical studies in modern times begins with the publication in 1847 of George Boole’s The Mathematical Analysis of Logic.
Co-authored with James R. Newman in Gödel's Proof (1986, 2005), 30.
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Like the crest of a peacock, like the gem on the head of a snake, so is mathematics at the head of all knowledge.
Anonymous
From the oldest extant Indian astronomical text, Vedanga Jyotisa (c. 500 B.C.). Quoted, as cited by George Gheverghese Joseph, in Dick Teresi, Lost Discoveries (2003), 28. G. G. Joseph has written a book by the title Crest of the Peacock (1991).
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Logic issues in tautologies, mathematics in identities, philosophy in definitions; all trivial, but all part of the vital work of clarifying and organising our thought.
'Last Papers: Philosophy' (1929), in The Foundations of Mathematics and Other Logical Essays (1931), 264.
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Making mathematics accessible to the educated layman, while keeping high scientific standards, has always been considered a treacherous navigation between the Scylla of professional contempt and the Charybdis of public misunderstanding.
In Rota's 'Introduction' written (1980) to preface Philip J. Davis and Reuben Hersh, The Mathematical Experience (1981, 2012), xxiii.
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Making out an income tax is a lesson in mathematics: addition, division, multiplication and extraction.
Anonymous
In Evan Esar, 20,000 Quips and Quotes, 419.
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Man chooses either life or death, but he chooses; everything he does, from going to the toilet to mathematical speculation, is an act of religious worship, either of God or of himself.
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 15
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Man has never been a particularly modest or self-deprecatory animal, and physical theory bears witness to this no less than many other important activities. The idea that thought is the measure of all things, that there is such a thing as utter logical rigor, that conclusions can be drawn endowed with an inescapable necessity, that mathematics has an absolute validity and controls experience—these are not the ideas of a modest animal. Not only do our theories betray these somewhat bumptious traits of self-appreciation, but especially obvious through them all is the thread of incorrigible optimism so characteristic of human beings.
In The Nature of Physical Theory (1936), 135-136.
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Man is full of desires: he loves only those who can satisfy them all. “This man is a good mathematician,” someone will say. But I have no concern for mathematics; he would take me for a proposition. “That one is a good soldier.” He would take me for a besieged town. I need, that is to say, a decent man who can accommodate himself to all my desires in a general sort of way.
From Pensées (1670), Sect. 6, Aphorism 18. As translated in W.H. Auden and L. Kronenberger (eds.) The Viking Book of Aphorisms (1966), 199. From the original French, “L’homme est plein de besoins: il n’aime que ceux qui peuvent les remplir tous. ‘C’est un bon mathématicien,’ dira-t-on. Mais je n’ai que faire de mathématiques; il me prendroit pour une proposition. ‘C’est un bon guerrier.’ Il me prendroit pour une place assiégée. Il faut donc un honnête homme qui puisse s’accommoder à tous mes besoins généralement,” in Oeuvres Complètes de Blaise Pascal (1858), Vol. 1, 276.
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Many arts there are which beautify the mind of man; of all other none do more garnish and beautify it than those arts which are called mathematical.
The Elements of Geometric of the most ancient Philosopher Euclide of Megara (1570), Note to the Reader. In Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath's Quotation-book (1914), 44.
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Many who have never had an opportunity of knowing any more about mathematics confound it with arithmetic, and consider it an arid science. In reality, however, it is a science which requires a great amount of imagination.
In a letter to Madame Schabelskoy, quoted in Sónya Kovalévsky: Her Recollections of Childhood, translated by Isabel F. Hapgood (1895), 316.
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Marx founded a new science: the science of history. … The sciences we are familiar with have been installed in a number of great “continents”. Before Marx, two such continents had been opened up to scientific knowledge: the continent of Mathematics and the continent of Physics. The first by the Greeks (Thales), the second by Galileo. Marx opened up a third continent to scientific knowledge: the continent of History.
In Lenin and Philosophy, and Other Writings (1971), 4.
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Math is like love—a simple idea but it can get complicated.
Anonymous
Quoted in Jon Fripp, Michael Fripp, Deborah Fripp Speaking of Science: Notable Quotes on Science, Engineering, and the Environment (2000), 45, and attributed to “R. Drabek” with no further source information. Webmaster wonders if this is a typo for mathematician, Pavel Drábek.
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Mathematical discoveries, like springtime violets in the woods, have their season which no human can hasten or retard.