Static Quotes (7 quotes)
For myself, I like a universe that, includes much that is unknown and, at the same time, much that is knowable. A universe in which everything is known would be static and dull, as boring as the heaven of some weak-minded theologians. A universe that is unknowable is no fit place for a thinking being. The ideal universe for us is one very much like the universe we inhabit. And I would guess that this is not really much of a coincidence.
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.
Mathematics in its pure form, as arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and the applications of the analytic method, as well as mathematics applied to matter and force, or statics and dynamics, furnishes the peculiar study that gives to us, whether as children or as men, the command of nature in this its quantitative aspect; mathematics furnishes the instrument, the tool of thought, which we wield in this realm.
The belief that mathematics, because it is abstract, because it is static and cold and gray, is detached from life, is a mistaken belief. Mathematics, even in its purest and most abstract estate, is not detached from life. It is just the ideal handling of the problems of life, as sculpture may idealize a human figure or as poetry or painting may idealize a figure or a scene. Mathematics is precisely the ideal handling of the problems of life, and the central ideas of the science, the great concepts about which its stately doctrines have been built up, are precisely the chief ideas with which life must always deal and which, as it tumbles and rolls about them through time and space, give it its interests and problems, and its order and rationality. That such is the case a few indications will suffice to show. The mathematical concepts of constant and variable are represented familiarly in life by the notions of fixedness and change. The concept of equation or that of an equational system, imposing restriction upon variability, is matched in life by the concept of natural and spiritual law, giving order to what were else chaotic change and providing partial freedom in lieu of none at all. What is known in mathematics under the name of limit is everywhere present in life in the guise of some ideal, some excellence high-dwelling among the rocks, an ever flying perfect as Emerson calls it, unto which we may approximate nearer and nearer, but which we can never quite attain, save in aspiration. The supreme concept of functionality finds its correlate in life in the all-pervasive sense of interdependence and mutual determination among the elements of the world. What is known in mathematics as transformationthat is, lawful transfer of attention, serving to match in orderly fashion the things of one system with those of anotheris conceived in life as a process of transmutation by which, in the flux of the world, the content of the present has come out of the past and in its turn, in ceasing to be, gives birth to its successor, as the boy is father to the man and as things, in general, become what they are not. The mathematical concept of invariance and that of infinitude, especially the imposing doctrines that explain their meanings and bear their namesWhat are they but mathematicizations of that which has ever been the chief of lifes hopes and dreams, of that which has ever been the object of its deepest passion and of its dominant enterprise, I mean the finding of the worth that abides, the finding of permanence in the midst of change, and the discovery of a presence, in what has seemed to be a finite world, of being that is infinite? It is needless further to multiply examples of a correlation that is so abounding and complete as indeed to suggest a doubt whether it be juster to view mathematics as the abstract idealization of life than to regard life as the concrete realization of mathematics.
The professor may choose familiar topics as a starting point. The students collect material, work problems, observe regularities, frame hypotheses, discover and prove theorems for themselves. the student knows what he is doing and where he is going; he is secure in his mastery of the subject, strengthened in confidence of himself. He has had the experience of discovering mathematics. He no longer thinks of mathematics as static dogma learned by rote. He sees mathematics as something growing and developing, mathematical concepts as something continually revised and enriched in the light of new knowledge. The course may have covered a very limited region, but it should leave the student ready to explore further on his own.
Very few people realize the enormous bulk of contemporary mathematics. Probably it would be easier to learn all the languages of the world than to master all mathematics at present known. The languages could, I imagine, be learnt in a lifetime; mathematics certainly could not. Nor is the subject static.
We may summarize the fundamental characteristics and limitations of mathematics as follows: mathematics is ultimately an experimental science, for freedom from contradiction cannot be proved, but only postulated and checked by observation, and similarly existence can only be postulated and checked by observation. Furthermore, mathematics requires the fundamental device of all thought, of analyzing experience into static bits with static meanings.