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Notation Quotes (23 quotes)

...the question undoubtedly is, or soon will be, not whether or no we shall employ notation in chemistry, but whether we shall use a bad and incongruous, or a consistent and regular notation.
'On the Employment of Notation in Chemistry', Journal of the Royal Institution (1838), 1, 438. Cited in Timothy L. Alborn, 'Negotiating Notation: Chemical Symbols and British Society, 1831-1835', Annals of Science (1989), 46, 437.
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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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A good notation has a subtlety and suggestiveness which at times make it almost seem like a live teacher. … a perfect notation would be a substitute for thought.
In 'Introduction' by Bertrand Russell written for Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922), 17-18.
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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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Again, it [the Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine. Supposing for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.
In Richard Taylor (ed.), 'Translator’s Notes to M. Menabrea’s Memoir', Scientific Memoirs, Selected from the Transactions of Foreign Academies and Learned Societies and from Foreign Journals (1843), 3, Note A, 694. Her notes were appended to L.F. Menabrea, of Turin, Officer of the Military Engineers, 'Article XXIX: Sketch of the Analytical Engine invented by Charles Babbage Esq.', Bibliothèque Universelle de Gnve (Oct 1842), No. 82.
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Anyone who understands algebraic notation, reads at a glance in an equation results reached arithmetically only with great labour and pains.
From Recherches sur les Principes Mathématiques de la Théorie des Richesses (1838), as translated by Nathaniel T. Bacon in 'Preface', Researches Into Mathematical Principles of the Theory of Wealth (1897), 4. From the original French, “Quiconque connaît la notation algébrique, lit d'un clin-d'œil dans une équation le résultat auquel on parvient péniblement par des règles de fausse position, dans l'arithmétique de Banque.”
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Before the introduction of the Arabic notation, multiplication was difficult, and the division even of integers called into play the highest mathematical faculties. Probably nothing in the modern world could have more astonished a Greek mathematician than to learn that, under the influence of compulsory education, the whole population of Western Europe, from the highest to the lowest, could perform the operation of division for the largest numbers. This fact would have seemed to him a sheer impossibility. … Our modern power of easy reckoning with decimal fractions is the most miraculous result of a perfect notation.
In Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 59.
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By relieving the brain of all unnecessary work, a good notation sets it free to concentrate on more advanced problems, and in effect increases the mental power of the race.
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 59.
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Following the original proposal of Belinfante, “the writer has in a recent note on the meson theory of nuclear forces” used the word “nuclon” as a common notation for the heavy nuclear constituents, neutrons and protons. In the meantime, however, it has been pointed out to me that, since the root of the word nucleus is “nucle”, the notation “nucleon” would from a philological point of view be more appropriate for this purpose….
In Physical Review (1 Feb 1941), 59, 323. For book using the word “nuclon”, see Frederik Jozef Belinfante, Theory of Heavy Quanta: Proefschrift (1939), 40.
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It is worth noting that the notation facilitates discovery. This, in a most wonderful way, reduces the mind's labour.
In Eberhard Zeidler, Applied Functional Analysis: main principles and their applications (1995), 225.
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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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Noitaton Hsilop esrever diova!
In Michael Stueben Twenty Years Before the Blackboard, (1998), 131. The sentence is written backwards from “Avoid reverse Polish notation!” [Note the E. Kim Nebeuts is probably a pen name since, also reversed, it reads Mike Stueben. —Webmaster]
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Our Professor, which doth have tenure,
Feared be thy name.
Thy sets partition,
Thy maps commute,
In groups as in vector spaces.
Give us this day our daily notation,
And forgive us our obtuseness,
As we forgive tutors who cannot help us.
Lead us not into Lye rings,
But deliver us from eigenvalues,
For thine is the logic, the notation, and the accent,
That confuses us forever.
Amen.
Anonymous
'Algebra Prayer' by an unnamed University of Toronto mathematics student. On the Department of Mathematics, University of Toronto web site.
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Perhaps we see equations as simple because they are easily expressed in terms of mathematical notation already invented at an earlier stage of development of the science, and thus what appears to us as elegance of description really reflects the interconnectedness of Nature's laws at different levels.
Nobel Banquet Speech (10 Dec 1969), in Wilhelm Odelberg (ed.),Les Prix Nobel en 1969 (1970).
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Professor Cayley has since informed me that the theorem about whose origin I was in doubt, will be found in Schläfli’s De Eliminatione. This is not the first unconscious plagiarism I have been guilty of towards this eminent man whose friendship I am proud to claim. A more glaring case occurs in a note by me in the Comptes Rendus, on the twenty-seven straight lines of cubic surfaces, where I believe I have followed (like one walking in his sleep), down to the very nomenclature and notation, the substance of a portion of a paper inserted by Schlafli in the Mathematical Journal, which bears my name as one of the editors upon the face.
In Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (1864), 642.
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Pure mathematics is not concerned with magnitude. It is merely the doctrine of notation of relatively ordered thought operations which have become mechanical.
In Schriften (1901), Zweiter Teil, 282.
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Such is the advantage of a well constructed language that its simplified notation often becomes the source of profound theories.
Quoted in Nicholas J. Rose, Mathematical Maxims and Minims (1988).

The history of mathematics may be instructive as well as agreeable; it may not only remind us of what we have, but may also teach us to increase our store. Says De Morgan, “The early history of the mind of men with regards to mathematics leads us to point out our own errors; and in this respect it is well to pay attention to the history of mathematics.” It warns us against hasty conclusions; it points out the importance of a good notation upon the progress of the science; it discourages excessive specialization on the part of the investigator, by showing how apparently distinct branches have been found to possess unexpected connecting links; it saves the student from wasting time and energy upon problems which were, perhaps, solved long since; it discourages him from attacking an unsolved problem by the same method which has led other mathematicians to failure; it teaches that fortifications can be taken by other ways than by direct attack, that when repulsed from a direct assault it is well to reconnoiter and occupy the surrounding ground and to discover the secret paths by which the apparently unconquerable position can be taken.
In History of Mathematics (1897), 1-2.
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The invention of what we may call primary or fundamental notation has been but little indebted to analogy, evidently owing to the small extent of ideas in which comparison can be made useful. But at the same time analogy should be attended to, even if for no other reason than that, by making the invention of notation an art, the exertion of individual caprice ceases to be allowable. Nothing is more easy than the invention of notation, and nothing of worse example and consequence than the confusion of mathematical expressions by unknown symbols. If new notation be advisable, permanently or temporarily, it should carry with it some mark of distinction from that which is already in use, unless it be a demonstrable extension of the latter.
In 'Calculus of Functions', Encyclopaedia of Pure Mathematics (1847), Addition to Article 26, 388.
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The language of analysis, most perfect of all, being in itself a powerful instrument of discoveries, its notations, especially when they are necessary and happily conceived, are so many germs of new calculi.
From Theorie Analytique des Probabilités (1812), 7. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 200. From the original French, “La langue de l’Analyse, la plus parfaite de toutes, étant par elle-même un puissant instrument de découvertes, ses notations, lorsqu’elles sont nécessaires et heureusement imaginées, sont autant de germes de nouveaux calculs.”
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The origin of a science is usually to be sought for not in any systematic treatise, but in the investigation and solution of some particular problem. This is especially the case in the ordinary history of the great improvements in any department of mathematical science. Some problem, mathematical or physical, is proposed, which is found to be insoluble by known methods. This condition of insolubility may arise from one of two causes: Either there exists no machinery powerful enough to effect the required reduction, or the workmen are not sufficiently expert to employ their tools in the performance of an entirely new piece of work. The problem proposed is, however, finally solved, and in its solution some new principle, or new application of old principles, is necessarily introduced. If a principle is brought to light it is soon found that in its application it is not necessarily limited to the particular question which occasioned its discovery, and it is then stated in an abstract form and applied to problems of gradually increasing generality.
Other principles, similar in their nature, are added, and the original principle itself receives such modifications and extensions as are from time to time deemed necessary. The same is true of new applications of old principles; the application is first thought to be merely confined to a particular problem, but it is soon recognized that this problem is but one, and generally a very simple one, out of a large class, to which the same process of investigation and solution are applicable. The result in both of these cases is the same. A time comes when these several problems, solutions, and principles are grouped together and found to produce an entirely new and consistent method; a nomenclature and uniform system of notation is adopted, and the principles of the new method become entitled to rank as a distinct science.
In A Treatise on Projections (1880), Introduction, xi. Published as United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, Treasury Department Document, No. 61.
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There was yet another disadvantage attaching to the whole of Newton’s physical inquiries, ... the want of an appropriate notation for expressing the conditions of a dynamical problem, and the general principles by which its solution must be obtained. By the labours of LaGrange, the motions of a disturbed planet are reduced with all their complication and variety to a purely mathematical question. It then ceases to be a physical problem; the disturbed and disturbing planet are alike vanished: the ideas of time and force are at an end; the very elements of the orbit have disappeared, or only exist as arbitrary characters in a mathematical formula
Address to the Mechanics Institute, 'An Address on the Genius and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton' (1835), excerpted in paper by Luis M. Laita, Luis de Ledesma, Eugenio Roanes-Lozano and Alberto Brunori, 'George Boole, a Forerunner of Symbolic Computation', collected in John A. Campbell and Eugenio Roanes-Lozano (eds.), Artificial Intelligence and Symbolic Computation: International Conference AISC 2000 (2001), 3.
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Your remarks upon chemical notation with the variety of systems which have arisen, &c., &c., had almost stirred me up to regret publicly that such hindrances to the progress of science should exist. I cannot help thinking it a most unfortunate thing that men who as experimentalists & philosophers are the most fitted to advance the general cause of science & knowledge should by promulgation of their own theoretical views under the form of nomenclature, notation, or scale, actually retard its progress.
Letter to William Whewell (21 Feb 1831). In Isaac Todhunter, William Whewell, An Account of his Writings (1876), Vol. 1., 307. Faraday may have been referring to a paper by Whewell published in the Journal of the Royal Institution of England (1831), 437-453.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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