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Who said: “I have no satisfaction in formulas unless I feel their arithmetical magnitude.”
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Several Quotes (31 quotes)

A hundred years ago … an engineer, Herbert Spencer, was willing to expound every aspect of life, with an effect on his admiring readers which has not worn off today.
Things do not happen quite in this way nowadays. This, we are told, is an age of specialists. The pursuit of knowledge has become a profession. The time when a man could master several sciences is past. He must now, they say, put all his efforts into one subject. And presumably, he must get all his ideas from this one subject. The world, to be sure, needs men who will follow such a rule with enthusiasm. It needs the greatest numbers of the ablest technicians. But apart from them it also needs men who will converse and think and even work in more than one science and know how to combine or connect them. Such men, I believe, are still to be found today. They are still as glad to exchange ideas as they have been in the past. But we cannot say that our way of life is well-fitted to help them. Why is this?
In 'The Unification of Biology', New Scientist (11 Jan 1962), 13, No. 269, 72.
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Any conception which is definitely and completely determined by means of a finite number of specifications, say by assigning a finite number of elements, is a mathematical conception. Mathematics has for its function to develop the consequences involved in the definition of a group of mathematical conceptions. Interdependence and mutual logical consistency among the members of the group are postulated, otherwise the group would either have to be treated as several distinct groups, or would lie beyond the sphere of mathematics.
In 'Mathematics', Encyclopedia Britannica (9th ed.).
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As I looked down, I saw a large river meandering slowly along for miles, passing from one country to another without stopping. I also saw huge forests, extending along several borders. And I watched the extent of one ocean touch the shores of separate continents. Two words leaped to mind as I looked down on all this: commonality and interdependence. We are one world.
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Biological disciplines tend to guide research into certain channels. One consequence is that disciplines are apt to become parochial, or at least to develop blind spots, for example, to treat some questions as “interesting” and to dismiss others as “uninteresting.” As a consequence, readily accessible but unworked areas of genuine biological interest often lie in plain sight but untouched within one discipline while being heavily worked in another. For example, historically insect physiologists have paid relatively little attention to the behavioral and physiological control of body temperature and its energetic and ecological consequences, whereas many students of the comparative physiology of terrestrial vertebrates have been virtually fixated on that topic. For the past 10 years, several of my students and I have exploited this situation by taking the standard questions and techniques from comparative vertebrate physiology and applying them to insects. It is surprising that this pattern of innovation is not more deliberately employed.
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 233.
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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.
In Johns Hopkins Commemoration Day Address, Collected Mathematical Papers, Vol. 3, 76.
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Can the cause be reached from knowledge of the effect with the same certainty as the effect can be shown to follow from its cause? Is it possible for one effect to have many causes? If one determinate cause cannot be reached from the effect, since there is no effect which has not some cause, it follows that an effect, when it has one cause, may have another, and so that there may be several causes of it.
As quoted in Alistair Cameron Crombie, Robert Grosseteste and the Origins of Experimental Science, 1100-1700 (1971), 81.
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Chymistry. … An art whereby sensible bodies contained in vessels … are so changed, by means of certain instruments, and principally fire, that their several powers and virtues are thereby discovered, with a view to philosophy or medicine.
An antiquated definition, as quoted in Samuel Johnson, entry for 'Chymistry' in Dictionary of the English Language (1785). Also in The Quarterly Journal of Science, Literature, and the Arts (1821), 284, wherein a letter writer (only identified as “C”) points out that this definition still appeared in the, then, latest Rev. Mr. Todd’s Edition of Johnson’s Dictionary, and that it showed “very little improvement of scientific words.” The letter included examples of better definitions by Black and by Davy. (See their pages on this website.)
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Complex organisms cannot be construed as the sum of their genes, nor do genes alone build particular items of anatomy or behavior by them selves. Most genes influence several aspects of anatomy and behavior–as they operate through complex interactions with other genes and their products, and with environmental factors both within and outside the developing organism. We fall into a deep error, not just a harmful oversimplification, when we speak of genes ‘for’ particular items of anatomy or behavior.
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Developing countries can leapfrog several stages in the development process through the application of bio-technology in agriculture.
In Arbind Prasad and Jagdish Prasad, Development Planning for Agriculture: Policies, Economic Implications, Inputs, Production and Marketing (1994), 93.
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For the saving the long progression of the thoughts to remote and first principles in every case, the mind should provide itself several stages; that is to say, intermediate principles, which it might have recourse to in the examining those positions that come in its way. These, though they are not self-evident principles, yet, if they have been made out from them by a wary and unquestionable deduction, may be depended on as certain and infallible truths, and serve as unquestionable truths to prove other points depending upon them, by a nearer and shorter view than remote and general maxims. … And thus mathematicians do, who do not in every new problem run it back to the first axioms through all the whole train of intermediate propositions. Certain theorems that they have settled to themselves upon sure demonstration, serve to resolve to them multitudes of propositions which depend on them, and are as firmly made out from thence as if the mind went afresh over every link of the whole chain that tie them to first self-evident principles.
In The Conduct of the Understanding, Sect. 21.
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God [could] vary the laws of Nature, and make worlds of several sorts in several parts of the universe.
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Higher Mathematics is the art of reasoning about numerical relations between natural phenomena; and the several sections of Higher Mathematics are different modes of viewing these relations.
In Higher Mathematics for Students of Chemistry and Physics (1902), Prologue, xvii.
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I can see him [Sylvester] now, with his white beard and few locks of gray hair, his forehead wrinkled o’er with thoughts, writing rapidly his figures and formulae on the board, sometimes explaining as he wrote, while we, his listeners, caught the reflected sounds from the board. But stop, something is not right, he pauses, his hand goes to his forehead to help his thought, he goes over the work again, emphasizes the leading points, and finally discovers his difficulty. Perhaps it is some error in his figures, perhaps an oversight in the reasoning. Sometimes, however, the difficulty is not elucidated, and then there is not much to the rest of the lecture. But at the next lecture we would hear of some new discovery that was the outcome of that difficulty, and of some article for the Journal, which he had begun. If a text-book had been taken up at the beginning, with the intention of following it, that text-book was most likely doomed to oblivion for the rest of the term, or until the class had been made listeners to every new thought and principle that had sprung from the laboratory of his mind, in consequence of that first difficulty. Other difficulties would soon appear, so that no text-book could last more than half of the term. In this way his class listened to almost all of the work that subsequently appeared in the Journal. It seemed to be the quality of his mind that he must adhere to one subject. He would think about it, talk about it to his class, and finally write about it for the Journal. The merest accident might start him, but once started, every moment, every thought was given to it, and, as much as possible, he read what others had done in the same direction; but this last seemed to be his real point; he could not read without finding difficulties in the way of understanding the author. Thus, often his own work reproduced what had been done by others, and he did not find it out until too late.
A notable example of this is in his theory of cyclotomic functions, which he had reproduced in several foreign journals, only to find that he had been greatly anticipated by foreign authors. It was manifest, one of the critics said, that the learned professor had not read Rummer’s elementary results in the theory of ideal primes. Yet Professor Smith’s report on the theory of numbers, which contained a full synopsis of Kummer’s theory, was Professor Sylvester’s constant companion.
This weakness of Professor Sylvester, in not being able to read what others had done, is perhaps a concomitant of his peculiar genius. Other minds could pass over little difficulties and not be troubled by them, and so go on to a final understanding of the results of the author. But not so with him. A difficulty, however small, worried him, and he was sure to have difficulties until the subject had been worked over in his own way, to correspond with his own mode of thought. To read the work of others, meant therefore to him an almost independent development of it. Like the man whose pleasure in life is to pioneer the way for society into the forests, his rugged mind could derive satisfaction only in hewing out its own paths; and only when his efforts brought him into the uncleared fields of mathematics did he find his place in the Universe.
In Florian Cajori, Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 266-267.
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I despair of persuading people to drop the familiar and comforting tactic of dichotomy. Perhaps, instead, we might expand the framework of debates by seeking other dichotomies more appropriate than, or simply different from, the conventional divisions. All dichotomies are simplifications, but the rendition of a conflict along differing axes of several orthogonal dichotomies might provide an amplitude of proper intellectual space without forcing us to forgo our most comforting tool of thought.
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I like to summarize what I regard as the pedestal-smashing messages of Darwin’s revolution in the following statement, which might be chanted several times a day, like a Hare Krishna mantra, to encourage penetration into the soul: Humans are not the end result of predictable evolutionary progress, but rather a fortuitous cosmic afterthought, a tiny little twig on the enormously arborescent bush of life, which, if replanted from seed, would almost surely not grow this twig again, or perhaps any twig with any property that we would care to call consciousness.
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In 1735 the solving of an astronomical problem, proposed by the Academy, for which several eminent mathematicians had demanded several months’ time, was achieved in three days by Euler with aid of improved methods of his own. … With still superior methods this same problem was solved by the illustrious Gauss in one hour.
In History of Mathematics (1897), 248.
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Incandescent carbon particles, by the tens of millions, leap free of the log and wave like banners, as flame. Several hundred significantly different chemical reactions are now going on. For example, a carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms, coming out of the breaking cellulose, may lock together and form methane, natural gas. The methane, burning (combining with oxygen), turns into carbon dioxide and water, which also go up the flue. If two carbon atoms happen to come out of the wood with six hydrogen atoms, they are, agglomerately, ethane, which bums to become, also, carbon dioxide and water. Three carbons and eight hydrogens form propane, and propane is there, too, in the fire. Four carbons and ten hydrogens—butane. Five carbons … pentane. Six … hexane. Seven … heptane. Eight carbons and eighteen hydrogens—octane. All these compounds come away in the breaking of the cellulose molecule, and burn, and go up the chimney as carbon dioxide and water. Pentane, hexane, heptane, and octane have a collective name. Logs burning in a fireplace are making and burning gasoline.
In 'Firewood', Pieces of the Frame (1975), 205-206.
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Most books, after all, are ephemeral; their specifics, several years later, inspire about as much interest as daily battle reports from the Hundred Years’ War.
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Mr. Bertrand Russell tells us that it can be shown that a mathematical web of some kind can be woven about any universe containing several objects. If this be so, then the fact that our universe lends itself to mathematical treatment is not a fact of any great philosophical significance.
In The Limitations of Science (1933), 229. [Notice that there are no quotation marks in the narrative statement by Sullivan. Therefore, Webmaster believes they are not necessarily, and likely not, the verbatim words from Russell. The first sentence is more likely to be Sullivan expressing in his own words an idea from Russell, and most likely the second sentence is Sullivan’s comment on that idea. (Be cautioned that quotation marks, perhaps spurious, have appeared when re-stated in later publications by other authors.) Webmaster has so far been unable to identify a primary source for these words in a text by Russell. If you know the primary source, please contact Webmaster.]
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Of several bodies all equally larger and distant, that most brightly illuminated will appear to the eye nearest and largest.
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One of the most curious and interesting reptiles which I met with in Borneo was a large tree-frog, which was brought me by one of the Chinese workmen. He assured me that he had seen it come down in a slanting direction from a high tree, as if it flew. On examining it, I found the toes very long and fully webbed to their very extremity, so that when expanded they offered a surface much larger than the body. The forelegs were also bordered by a membrane, and the body was capable of considerable inflation. The back and limbs were of a very deep shining green colour, the undersurface and the inner toes yellow, while the webs were black, rayed with yellow. The body was about four inches long, while the webs of each hind foot, when fully expanded, covered a surface of four square inches, and the webs of all the feet together about twelve square inches. As the extremities of the toes have dilated discs for adhesion, showing the creature to be a true tree frog, it is difficult to imagine that this immense membrane of the toes can be for the purpose of swimming only, and the account of the Chinaman, that it flew down from the tree, becomes more credible. This is, I believe, the first instance known of a “flying frog,” and it is very interesting to Darwinians as showing that the variability of the toes which have been already modified for purposes of swimming and adhesive climbing, have been taken advantage of to enable an allied species to pass through the air like the flying lizard. It would appear to be a new species of the genus Rhacophorus, which consists of several frogs of a much smaller size than this, and having the webs of the toes less developed.
Malay Archipelago
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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.
From Address (1940), given at the Bicentennial Conference at the University of Pennsylvania, 'The Mathematical Way of Thinking'. Collected in Hermann Weyl and Peter Pesic (ed.), Levels of Infinity: Selected Writings on Mathematics and Philosophy (2012), 67.
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Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won’t work.
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Several days after looking at the Earth a childish thought occurred to me - that we the cosmonauts are being deceived. If we are the first ones in space, then who was it who made the globe correctly? Then this thought was replaced by pride in the human capacity to see with our mind.
Igor Volk
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The mathematicians have been very much absorbed with finding the general solution of algebraic equations, and several of them have tried to prove the impossibility of it. However, if I am not mistaken, they have not as yet succeeded. I therefore dare hope that the mathematicians will receive this memoir with good will, for its purpose is to fill this gap in the theory of algebraic equations.
Opening of Memoir on Algebraic Equations, Proving the Impossibility of a Solution of the General Equation of the Fifth Degree. The paper was originally published (1824) in French, as a pamphlet, in Oslo. Collected in Œuvres Complètes (1881), Vol. 1, 28. Translation by W.H. Langdon collected in David Eugene Smith, A Source Book in Mathematics (2012), 261. In this work, he showed why—despite two centuries of efforts by mathematicians—solving equations of the fifth degree would remain futile. The insights from this paper led to the modern theory of equations.
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The 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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The student should read his author with the most sustained attention, in order to discover the meaning of every sentence. If the book is well written, it will endure and repay his close attention: the text ought to be fairly intelligible, even without illustrative examples. Often, far too often, a reader hurries over the text without any sincere and vigorous effort to understand it; and rushes to some example to clear up what ought not to have been obscure, if it had been adequately considered. The habit of scrupulously investigating the text seems to me important on several grounds. The close scrutiny of language is a very valuable exercise both for studious and practical life. In the higher departments of mathematics the habit is indispensable: in the long investigations which occur there it would be impossible to interpose illustrative examples at every stage, the student must therefore encounter and master, sentence by sentence, an extensive and complicated argument.
In 'Private Study of Mathematics', Conflict of Studies and other Essays (1873), 67.
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This is one of the greatest advantages of modern geometry over the ancient, to be able, through the consideration of positive and negative quantities, to include in a single enunciation the several cases which the same theorem may present by a change in the relative position of the different parts of a figure. Thus in our day the nine principal problems and the numerous particular cases, which form the object of eighty-three theorems in the two books De sectione determinata of Appolonius constitute only one problem which is resolved by a single equation.
In Histoire de la Géométrie, chap. 1, sect. 35.
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Thought-economy is most highly developed in mathematics, that science which has reached the highest formal development, and on which natural science so frequently calls for assistance. Strange as it may seem, the strength of mathematics lies in the avoidance of all unnecessary thoughts, in the utmost economy of thought-operations. The symbols of order, which we call numbers, form already a system of wonderful simplicity and economy. When in the multiplication of a number with several digits we employ the multiplication table and thus make use of previously accomplished results rather than to repeat them each time, when by the use of tables of logarithms we avoid new numerical calculations by replacing them by others long since performed, when we employ determinants instead of carrying through from the beginning the solution of a system of equations, when we decompose new integral expressions into others that are familiar,—we see in all this but a faint reflection of the intellectual activity of a Lagrange or Cauchy, who with the keen discernment of a military commander marshalls a whole troop of completed operations in the execution of a new one.
In Populär-wissenschafliche Vorlesungen (1903), 224-225.
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Thus, we have three principles for increasing adequacy of data: if you must work with a single object, look for imperfections that record historical descent; if several objects are available, try to render them as stages of a single historical process; if processes can be directly observed, sum up their effects through time. One may discuss these principles directly or recognize the ‘little problems’ that Darwin used to exemplify them: orchids, coral reefs, and worms–the middle book, the first, and the last.
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[This] may prove to be the beginning of some embracing generalization, which will throw light, not only on radioactive processes, but on elements in general and the Periodic Law.... Chemical homogeneity is no longer a guarantee that any supposed element is not a mixture of several of different atomic weights, or that any atomic weight is not merely a mean number.
From Chemical Society's Annual Reports (1910), Vol. 7, 285. As quoted in Francis Aston in Lecture (1936) on 'Forty Years of Atomic Theory', collected in Needham and Pagel (eds.) in Background to Modern Science: Ten Lectures at Cambridge Arranged by the History of Science Committee, (1938), 100. Cited in Alfred Walter Stewart, Recent Advances in Physical and Inorganic Chemistry (1920), 198.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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- 10 -
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