Probably Quotes (49 quotes)

A great department of thought must have its own inner life, however transcendent may be the importance of its relations to the outside. No department of science, least of all one requiring so high a degree of mental concentration as Mathematics, can be developed entirely, or even mainly, with a view to applications outside its own range. The increased complexity and specialisation of all branches of knowledge makes it true in the present, however it may have been in former times, that important advances in such a department as Mathematics can be expected only from men who are interested in the subject for its own sake, and who, whilst keeping an open mind for suggestions from outside, allow their thought to range freely in those lines of advance which are indicated by the present state of their subject, untrammelled by any preoccupation as to applications to other departments of science. Even with a view to applications, if Mathematics is to be adequately equipped for the purpose of coping with the intricate problems which will be presented to it in the future by Physics, Chemistry and other branches of physical science, many of these problems probably of a character which we cannot at present forecast, it is essential that Mathematics should be allowed to develop freely on its own lines.

A theory that you can’t explain to a bartender is probably no damn good.

At your next breath each of you will probably inhale half a dozen or so of the molecules of Caesar’s last breath.

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.

But for the persistence of a student of this university in urging upon me his desire to study with me the modern algebra I should never have been led into this investigation; and the new facts and principles which I have discovered in regard to it (important facts, I believe), would, so far as I am concerned, have remained still hidden in the womb of time. In vain I represented to this inquisitive student that he would do better to take up some other subject lying less off the beaten track of study, such as the higher parts of the calculus or elliptic functions, or the theory of substitutions, or I wot not what besides. He stuck with perfect respectfulness, but with invincible pertinacity, to his point. He would have the new algebra (Heaven knows where he had heard about it, for it is almost unknown in this continent), that or nothing. I was obliged to yield, and what was the consequence? In trying to throw light upon an obscure explanation in our text-book, my brain took fire, I plunged with re-quickened zeal into a subject which I had for years abandoned, and found food for thoughts which have engaged my attention for a considerable time past, and will probably occupy all my powers of contemplation advantageously for several months to come.

Dreams are the reality you are afraid to live, reality is the fact that your dreams will probably never come true. You can find the word me in dream, that is because it is up to you to make them come true.

Events in the past may be roughly divided into those which probably never happened and those which do not matter. This is what makes the trade of historian so attractive.

Every failure teaches a man something, to wit, that he will probably fail again next time.

I have flown twice over Mount St. Helens out on our West Coast. I'm not a scientist and I don't know the figures, but I have a suspicion that that one little mountain has probably released more sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere of the world than has been released in the last ten years of automobile driving or things of that kind that people are so concerned about.

I think it’s going to be great if people can buy a ticket to fly up and see black sky and the stars. I’d like to do it myself - but probably after it has flown a serious number of times first!

I will ask you to mark again that rather typical feature of the development of our subject; how so much progress depends on the interplay of techniques, discoveries and new ideas, probably in that order of decreasing importance.

If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my dreams in music. I see my life in terms of music... I get most joy in life out of music.

If we had had more time for discussing we should probably have made a great many more mistakes.

If what we are doing is not seen by some people as science fiction, it’s probably not transformative enough.

If you were going to risk all that, not just risk the hardship and the pain but risk your life. Put everything on line for a dream, for something that’s worth nothing, that can’t be proved to anybody. You just have the transient moment on a summit and when you come back down to the valley it goes. It is actually a completely illogical thing to do. It is not justifiable by any rational terms. That’s probably why you do it.

I’m very intense in my work. At any given moment, I think I know the answer to some problem, and that I’m right. Since science is the only self-correcting human institution I know of, you should not be frightened to take an extreme stand, if that causes the stand to be examined more thoroughly than it might be if you are circumspect. I’ve always been positive about the value of the Hubble constant, knowing full well that it probably isn’t solved.

Men are not going to embrace eugenics. They are going to embrace the first likely, trim-figured girl with limpid eyes and flashing teeth who comes along, in spite of the fact that her germ plasm is probably reeking with hypertension, cancer, haemophilia, colour blindness, hay fever, epilepsy, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

My mother, my dad and I left Cuba when I was two [January, 1959]. Castro had taken control by then, and life for many ordinary people had become very difficult. My dad had worked [as a personal bodyguard for the wife of Cuban president Batista], so he was a marked man. We moved to Miami, which is about as close to Cuba as you can get without being there. It’s a Cuba-centric society. I think a lot of Cubans moved to the US thinking everything would be perfect. Personally, I have to say that those early years were not particularly happy. A lot of people didn’t want us around, and I can remember seeing signs that said: “No children. No pets. No Cubans.” Things were not made easier by the fact that Dad had begun working for the US government. At the time he couldn’t really tell us what he was doing, because it was some sort of top-secret operation. He just said he wanted to fight against what was happening back at home. [Estefan’s father was one of the many Cuban exiles taking part in the ill-fated, anti-Castro Bay of Pigs invasion to overthrow dictator Fidel Castro.] One night, Dad disappered. I think he was so worried about telling my mother he was going that he just left her a note. There were rumours something was happening back home, but we didn’t really know where Dad had gone. It was a scary time for many Cubans. A lot of men were involved—lots of families were left without sons and fathers. By the time we found out what my dad had been doing, the attempted coup had taken place, on April 17, 1961. Intitially he’d been training in Central America, but after the coup attempt he was captured and spent the next wo years as a political prisoner in Cuba. That was probably the worst time for my mother and me. Not knowing what was going to happen to Dad. I was only a kid, but I had worked out where my dad was. My mother was trying to keep it a secret, so she used to tell me Dad was on a farm. Of course, I thought that she didn’t know what had really happened to him, so I used to keep up the pretence that Dad really was working on a farm. We used to do this whole pretending thing every day, trying to protect each other. Those two years had a terrible effect on my mother. She was very nervous, just going from church to church. Always carrying her rosary beads, praying her little heart out. She had her religion, and I had my music. Music was in our family. My mother was a singer, and on my father’s side there was a violinist and a pianist. My grandmother was a poet.

My visceral perception of brotherhood harmonizes with our best modern biological knowledge ... Many people think (or fear) that equality of human races represents a hope of liberal sentimentality probably squashed by the hard realities of history. They are wrong. This essay can be summarized in a single phrase, a motto if you will: Human equality is a contingent fact of history. Equality is not true by definition; it is neither an ethical principle (though equal treatment may be) nor a statement about norms of social action. It just worked out that way. A hundred different and plausible scenarios for human history would have yielded other results (and moral dilemmas of enormous magnitude). They didn’t happen.

Now when we think that each of these stars is probably the centre of a solar system grander than our own, we cannot seriously take ourselves to be the only minds in it all.

One feature which will probably most impress the mathematician accustomed to the rapidity and directness secured by the generality of modern methods is the

*deliberation*with which Archimedes approaches the solution of any one of his main problems. Yet this very characteristic, with its incidental effects, is calculated to excite the more admiration because the method suggests the tactics of some great strategist who foresees everything, eliminates everything not immediately conducive to the execution of his plan, masters every position in its order, and then suddenly (when the very elaboration of the scheme has almost obscured, in the mind of the spectator, its ultimate object) strikes the final blow. Thus we read in Archimedes proposition after proposition the bearing of which is not immediately obvious but which we find infallibly used later on; and we are led by such easy stages that the difficulties of the original problem, as presented at the outset, are scarcely appreciated. As Plutarch says: “It is not possible to find in geometry more difficult and troublesome questions, or more simple and lucid explanations.” But it is decidedly a rhetorical exaggeration when Plutarch goes on to say that we are deceived by the easiness of the successive steps into the belief that anyone could have discovered them for himself. On the contrary, the studied simplicity and the perfect finish of the treatises involve at the same time an element of mystery. Though each step depends on the preceding ones, we are left in the dark as to how they were suggested to Archimedes. There is, in fact, much truth in a remark by Wallis to the effect that he seems “as it were of set purpose to have covered up the traces of his investigation as if he had grudged posterity the secret of his method of inquiry while he wished to extort from them assent to his results.” Wallis adds with equal reason that not only Archimedes but nearly all the ancients so hid away from posterity their method of Analysis (though it is certain that they had one) that more modern mathematicians found it easier to invent a new Analysis than to seek out the old.
One summer night, out on a flat headland, all but surrounded by the waters of the bay, the horizons were remote and distant rims on the edge of space. Millions of stars blazed in darkness, and on the far shore a few lights burned in cottages. Otherwise there was no reminder of human life. My companion and I were alone with the stars: the misty river of the Milky Way flowing across the sky, the patterns of the constellations standing out bright and clear, a blazing planet low on the horizon. It occurred to me that if this were a sight that could be seen only once in a century, this little headland would be thronged with spectators. But it can be seen many scores of nights in any year, and so the lights burned in the cottages and the inhabitants probably gave not a thought to the beauty overhead; and because they could see it almost any night, perhaps they never will.

Our federal income tax law defines the tax y to be paid in terms of the income x; it does so in a clumsy enough way by pasting several linear functions together, each valid in another interval or bracket of income. An archaeologist who, five thousand years from now, shall unearth some of our income tax returns together with relics of engineering works and mathematical books, will probably date them a couple of centuries earlier, certainly before Galileo and Vieta.

Philosophers say a great deal about what is absolutely necessary for science, and it is always, so far as one can see, rather naive, and probably wrong.

Probably among all the pursuits of the University, mathematics pre-eminently demand self-denial, patience, and perseverance from youth, precisely at that period when they have liberty to act for themselves, and when on account of obvious temptations, habits of restraint and application are peculiarly valuable.

Probably I am very naive, but I also think I prefer to remain so, at least for the time being and perhaps for the rest of my life.

Psychotherapy–the theory that the patient will probably get well anyhow, and is certainly a damn fool.

Sooner or later for good or ill, a united mankind, equipped with science and power, will probably turn its attention to the other planets, not only for economic exploitation, but also as possible homes for man... The goal for the solar system would seem to be that it should become an interplanetary community of very diverse worlds... each contributing to the common experience its characteristic view of the universe. Through the pooling of this wealth of experience, through this “commonwealth of worlds,” new levels of mental and spiritual development should become possible, levels at present quite inconceivable to man.

Taking … the mathematical faculty, probably fewer than one in a hundred really possess it, the great bulk of the population having no natural ability for the study, or feeling the slightest interest in it*. And if we attempt to measure the amount of variation in the faculty itself between a first-class mathematician and the ordinary run of people who find any kind of calculation confusing and altogether devoid of interest, it is probable that the former could not be estimated at less than a hundred times the latter, and perhaps a thousand times would more nearly measure the difference between them.

[* This is the estimate furnished me by two mathematical masters in one of our great public schools of the proportion of boys who have any special taste or capacity for mathematical studies. Many more, of course, can be drilled into a fair knowledge of elementary mathematics, but only this small proportion possess the natural faculty which renders it possible for them ever to rank high as mathematicians, to take any pleasure in it, or to do any original mathematical work.]

[* This is the estimate furnished me by two mathematical masters in one of our great public schools of the proportion of boys who have any special taste or capacity for mathematical studies. Many more, of course, can be drilled into a fair knowledge of elementary mathematics, but only this small proportion possess the natural faculty which renders it possible for them ever to rank high as mathematicians, to take any pleasure in it, or to do any original mathematical work.]

The best answer to the question, “Will computers ever be as smart as humans?” is probably “Yes, but only briefly”.

The choice of technology, whether for a rich or a poor country, is probably the most important decision to be made.

The desire to economize time and mental effort in arithmetical computations, and to eliminate human liability to error is probably as old as the science of arithmetic itself.

The discovery of the conic sections, attributed to Plato, first threw open the higher species of form to the contemplation of geometers. But for this discovery, which was probably regarded in Plato’s tune and long after him, as the unprofitable amusement of a speculative brain, the whole course of practical philosophy of the present day, of the science of astronomy, of the theory of projectiles, of the art of navigation, might have run in a different channel; and the greatest discovery that has ever been made in the history of the world, the law of universal gravitation, with its innumerable direct and indirect consequences and applications to every department of human research and industry, might never to this hour have been elicited.

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

The man who is too old to learn was probably always too old to learn.

The name of Sir Isaac Newton has by general consent been placed at the head of those great men who have been the ornaments of their species. … The philosopher [Laplace], indeed, to whom posterity will probably assign a place next to Newton, has characterized the Principia as pre-eminent above all the productions of human intellect.

The persons who have been employed on these problems of applying the properties of matter and the laws of motion to the explanation of the phenomena of the world, and who have brought to them the high and admirable qualities which such an office requires, have justly excited in a very eminent degree the admiration which mankind feels for great intellectual powers. Their names occupy a distinguished place in literary history; and probably there are no scientific reputations of the last century higher, and none more merited, than those earned by great mathematicians who have laboured with such wonderful success in unfolding the mechanism of the heavens; such for instance as D ’Alembert, Clairaut, Euler, Lagrange, Laplace.

The science [of mathematics] has grown to such vast proportion that probably no living mathematician can claim to have achieved its mastery as a whole.

The solution of the difficulties which formerly surrounded the mathematical infinite is probably the greatest achievement of which our age has to boast.

The thirteen books of Euclid must have been a tremendous advance, probably even greater than that contained in the

*Principia*of Newton.
There is probably nothing more sublime than discontent transmuted into a work of art, a scientific discovery, and so on.

There might have been a hundred or a thousand life-bearing planets, had the course of evolution of the universe been a little different, or there might have been none at all. They would probably add, that, as life and man have been produced, that shows that their production was possible; and therefore, if not now then at some other time, if not here then in some other planet of some other sun, we should be sure to have come into existence; or if not precisely the same as we are, then something a little better or a little worse.

This [the fact that the pursuit of mathematics brings into harmonious action all the faculties of the human mind] accounts for the extraordinary longevity of all the greatest masters of the Analytic art, the Dii Majores of the mathematical Pantheon. Leibnitz lived to the age of 70; Euler to 76; Lagrange to 77; Laplace to 78; Gauss to 78; Plato, the supposed inventor of the conic sections, who made mathematics his study and delight, who called them the handles or aids to philosophy, the medicine of the soul, and is said never to have let a day go by without inventing some new theorems, lived to 82; Newton, the crown and glory of his race, to 85; Archimedes, the nearest akin, probably, to Newton in genius, was 75, and might have lived on to be 100, for aught we can guess to the contrary, when he was slain by the impatient and ill mannered sergeant, sent to bring him before the Roman general, in the full vigour of his faculties, and in the very act of working out a problem; Pythagoras, in whose school, I believe, the word mathematician (used, however, in a somewhat wider than its present sense) originated, the second founder of geometry, the inventor of the matchless theorem which goes by his name, the pre-cognizer of the undoubtedly mis-called Copernican theory, the discoverer of the regular solids and the musical canon who stands at the very apex of this pyramid of fame, (if we may credit the tradition) after spending 22 years studying in Egypt, and 12 in Babylon, opened school when 56 or 57 years old in Magna Græcia, married a young wife when past 60, and died, carrying on his work with energy unspent to the last, at the age of 99. The mathematician lives long and lives young; the wings of his soul do not early drop off, nor do its pores become clogged with the earthy particles blown from the dusty highways of vulgar life.

Two extreme views have always been held as to the use of mathematics. To some, mathematics is only measuring and calculating instruments, and their interest ceases as soon as discussions arise which cannot benefit those who use the instruments for the purposes of application in mechanics, astronomy, physics, statistics, and other sciences. At the other extreme we have those who are animated exclusively by the love of pure science. To them pure mathematics, with the theory of numbers at the head, is the only real and genuine science, and the applications have only an interest in so far as they contain or suggest problems in pure mathematics.

Of the two greatest mathematicians of modern tunes, Newton and Gauss, the former can be considered as a representative of the first, the latter of the second class; neither of them was exclusively so, and Newton’s inventions in the science of pure mathematics were probably equal to Gauss’s work in applied mathematics. Newton’s reluctance to publish the method of fluxions invented and used by him may perhaps be attributed to the fact that he was not satisfied with the logical foundations of the Calculus; and Gauss is known to have abandoned his electro-dynamic speculations, as he could not find a satisfying physical basis. …

Newton’s greatest work, the

The country of Newton is still pre-eminent for its culture of mathematical physics, that of Gauss for the most abstract work in mathematics.

Of the two greatest mathematicians of modern tunes, Newton and Gauss, the former can be considered as a representative of the first, the latter of the second class; neither of them was exclusively so, and Newton’s inventions in the science of pure mathematics were probably equal to Gauss’s work in applied mathematics. Newton’s reluctance to publish the method of fluxions invented and used by him may perhaps be attributed to the fact that he was not satisfied with the logical foundations of the Calculus; and Gauss is known to have abandoned his electro-dynamic speculations, as he could not find a satisfying physical basis. …

Newton’s greatest work, the

*Principia*, laid the foundation of mathematical physics; Gauss’s greatest work, the*Disquisitiones Arithmeticae*, that of higher arithmetic as distinguished from algebra. Both works, written in the synthetic style of the ancients, are difficult, if not deterrent, in their form, neither of them leading the reader by easy steps to the results. It took twenty or more years before either of these works received due recognition; neither found favour at once before that great tribunal of mathematical thought, the Paris Academy of Sciences. …The country of Newton is still pre-eminent for its culture of mathematical physics, that of Gauss for the most abstract work in mathematics.

We consider species to be like a brick in the foundation of a building. You can probably lose one or two or a dozen bricks and still have a standing house. But by the time you’ve lost twenty percent of species, you’re going to destabilize the entire structure. That’s the way ecosystems work.

We find it hard to believe that other people’s thoughts are as silly as our own, but they probably are.

When we look back beyond one hundred years over the long trails of history, we see immediately why the age we live in differs from all other ages in human annals. … It remained stationary in India and in China for thousands of years. But now it is moving very fast. … A priest from Thebes would probably have felt more at home at the council of Trent, two thousand years after Thebes had vanished, than Sir Isaac Newton at a modern undergraduate physical society, or George Stephenson in the Institute of Electrical Engineers. The changes have have been so sudden and so gigantic, that no period in history can be compared with the last century. The past no longer enables us even dimly to measure the future.

Young people, especially young women, often ask me for advice. Here it is,

*valeat quantum*. Do not undertake a scientific career in quest of fame or money. There are easier and better ways to reach them. Undertake it only if nothing else will satisfy you; for nothing else is probably what you will receive. Your reward will be the widening of the horizon as you climb. And if you achieve that reward you will ask no other.
[For corporate computing centers:] Probably the biggest threat is people thinking that they can buy broken things and then put patches on afterward and make it secure.