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Subject Quotes (240 quotes)

Dicere enim bene nemo potest, nisi qui prudenter intelligit.
No one can speak well, unless he thoroughly understands his subject.
Brutus VI., 23. In Thomas Benfield Harbottle, Dictionary of Quotations (classical) (3rd Ed., 1906), 45.
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Ein Fachmann ist ein Mann, der einige der gröbsten Fehler kennt, die man in dem betreffenden Fach machen kann, und der sie deshalb zu vermeiden versteht.
An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject, and how to avoid them.
From the original German, “Ein Fachmann ist ein Mann, der einige der gröbsten Fehler kennt, die man in dem betreffenden Fach machen kann, und der sie deshalb zu vermeiden versteht”, in Der Teil und das Ganze: Gespräche im Umkreis der Atomphysik (The Part and the Whole: Conversations in the Atomic Physics) (1969, 2001), 247. Excerpt in magazine article, 'Kein Chaos, aus dem nicht wieder Ordnung würde,' Die Zeit (22 August 1969), 34. English version in Werner Heisenberg and Arnold J. Pomerans (trans.), Physics and Beyond: Encounters and Conversations (1971), 210.
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Les causes primordiales ne nous sont point connues; mais elles sont assujetties à des lois simples et constantes, que l’on peut découvrir par l’observation, et dont l’étude est l’objet de la philosophie naturelle.
Primary causes are unknown to us; but are subject to simple and constant laws, which may be discovered by observation, the study of them being the object of natural philosophy.
Opening statement 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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Newsreader: A huge asteroid could destroy Earth! And by coincidence, that's the subject of tonight's miniseries.
Dogbert: In science, researchers proved that this simple device can keep idiots off your television screen. [TV remote control] Click.
Dilbert cartoon strip (30 Apr 1993).
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A good title should aim at making what follows as far as possible superfluous to those who know anything of the subject.
Samuel Butler, Henry Festing Jones (ed.), The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1917), 229.
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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.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Sheffield, Section A, Nature (1 Sep 1910), 84, 286.
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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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John Ray quote: A multitude of words doth rather obscure than illustrate, they being a burden to the memory, and the first apt t
A multitude of words doth rather obscure than illustrate, they being a burden to the memory, and the first apt to be forgotten, before we come to the last. So that he that uses many words for the explaining of any subject, doth, like the cuttle-fish, hide himself, for the most part, in his own ink.
John Ray
The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation (1691).
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A patient pursuit of facts, and cautious combination and comparison of them, is the drudgery to which man is subjected by his Maker, if he wishes to attain sure knowledge.
In 'Productions Mineral, Vegetable and Animal', Notes on the State of Virginia (1787), 112.
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A person by study must try to disengage the subject from useless matter, and to seize on points capable of improvement. ... When subjects are viewed through the mists of prejudice, useful truths may escape.
In An Essay on Aërial Navigation, With Some Observations on Ships (1844), 80.
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A professor is one who can speak on any subject—for precisely fifty minutes.
…...
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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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Gordon Lindsay Glegg quote
Background art by Nils86, (cc by-sa 3.0) (source)
A scientist may exhaust himself; he frequently exhausts his colleagues, always exhausts his money, but never exhausts his subject.
In The Development of Design (1981), 1.
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A superficial knowledge of mathematics may lead to the belief that this subject can be taught incidentally, and that exercises akin to counting the petals of flowers or the legs of a grasshopper are mathematical. Such work ignores the fundamental idea out of which quantitative reasoning grows—the equality of magnitudes. It leaves the pupil unaware of that relativity which is the essence of mathematical science. Numerical statements are frequently required in the study of natural history, but to repeat these as a drill upon numbers will scarcely lend charm to these studies, and certainly will not result in mathematical knowledge.
In Primary Arithmetic: First Year, for the Use of Teachers (1897), 26-27.
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After five years' work I allowed myself to speculate on the subject, and drew up some short notes; these I enlarged in 1844 into a sketch of the conclusions, which then seemed to me probable: from that period to the present day I have steadily pursued the same object. I hope that I may be excused for entering on these personal details, as I give them to show that I have not been hasty in coming to a decision.
From On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1861), 9.
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All scientists must focus closely on limited targets. Whether or not one’s findings on a limited subject will have wide applicability depends to some extent on chance, but biologists of superior ability repeatedly focus on questions the answers to which either have wide ramifications or lead to new areas of investigation. One procedure that can be effective is to attempt both reduction and synthesis; that is, direct a question at a phenomenon on one integrative level, identify its mechanism at a simpler level, then extrapolate its consequences to a more complex level of integration.
In 'Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view', American Zoologist (1982), 22, 230-231,
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All true science must aim at objective truth, and that means that the human observer must never allow himself to get emotionally mixed up with his subject-matter. His concern is to understand the universe, not to improve it. Detachment is obligatory.
From transcript of BBC radio Reith Lecture (12 Nov 1967), 'A Runaway World', on the bbc.co.uk website.
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An enthusiastic philosopher, of whose name we are not informed, had constructed a very satisfactory theory on some subject or other, and was not a little proud of it. “But the facts, my dear fellow,” said his friend, “the facts do not agree with your theory.”—“Don't they?” replied the philosopher, shrugging his shoulders, “then, tant pis pour les faits;”—so much the worse for the facts!
From Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions (1841), Vol. 3, 313, footnote.
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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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Archimedes possessed so high a spirit, so profound a soul, and such treasures of highly scientific knowledge, that though these inventions [used to defend Syracuse against the Romans] had now obtained him the renown of more than human sagacity, he yet would not deign to leave behind him any commentary or writing on such subjects; but, repudiating as sordid and ignoble the whole trade of engineering, and every sort of art that lends itself to mere use and profit, he placed his whole affection and ambition in those purer speculations where there can be no reference to the vulgar needs of life; studies, the superiority of which to all others is unquestioned, and in which the only doubt can be whether the beauty and grandeur of the subjects examined, or the precision and cogency of the methods and means of proof, most deserve our admiration.
Plutarch
In John Dryden (trans.), Life of Marcellus.
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Art and religion first; then philosophy; lastly science. That is the order of the great subjects of life, that’s their order of importance.
Dialog by the character Miss Brodie, in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961, 2004), 23-24.
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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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As few subjects are more interesting to society, so few have been more frequently written upon than the education of youth.
Essay No. VI, 'On Education', first published in The Bee (10 Nov 1759), collected in The Works of Oliver Goldsmith (1900), Vol. 5, 95. Reprinted as Essay VII under the title 'On the Education of Youth', (1765). The Bee was a weekly paper wholly the work of Goldsmith.
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At present good work in science pays less well very often than mediocrity in other subjects. This, as was pointed out by Sir Lyon Playfair in his Presidential Address to the British Association in 1885 helps to arrest progress in science teaching.
In Sir Norman Lockyer (ed.), 'Physical Science and the Woolwich Examinations', Nature (23 Feb 1888), 37, 386. Webmaster has assumed this unsigned lead article (editorial?) should be attributed to the Editor.
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Beasts have not the high advantages which we possess; but they have some which we have not. They have not our hopes, but then they have not our fears; they are subject like us to death, but it is without being aware of it; most of them are better able to preserve themselves than we are, and make a less bad use of their passions.
In Edwin Davies, Other Men's Minds, Or, Seven Thousand Choice Extracts (1800), 55.
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Before delivering your lectures, the manuscript should be in such a perfect form that, if need be, it could be set in type. Whether you follow the manuscript during the delivery of the lecture is purely incidental. The essential point is that you are thus master of the subject matter.
Advice to his son. As quoted in Ralph Oesper, The Human Side Of Scientists (1975), 185.
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Bertrand, Darboux, and Glaisher have compared Cayley to Euler, alike for his range, his analytical power, and, not least, for his prolific production of new views and fertile theories. There is hardly a subject in the whole of pure mathematics at which he has not worked.
In Proceedings of London Royal Society (1895), 58, 21.
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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 we separate object and subject? Myself is nothing but a part of my body, my body is nothing but a part of my food, my food is nothing but a part of the earth, the earth is nothing but a part of the solar system.
In Sir William Withey Gull and Theodore Dyke Acland (ed.), A Collection of the Published Writings of William Withey Gull (1896), lii.
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Cayley was singularly learned in the work of other men, and catholic in his range of knowledge. Yet he did not read a memoir completely through: his custom was to read only so much as would enable him to grasp the meaning of the symbols and understand its scope. The main result would then become to him a subject of investigation: he would establish it (or test it) by algebraic analysis and, not infrequently, develop it so to obtain other results. This faculty of grasping and testing rapidly the work of others, together with his great knowledge, made him an invaluable referee; his services in this capacity were used through a long series of years by a number of societies to which he was almost in the position of standing mathematical advisor.
In Proceedings of London Royal Society (1895), 58, 11-12.
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Civilized people can talk about anything. For them no subject is taboo…. In civilized societies there will be no intellectual bogeys at sight of which great grown-up babies are expected to hide their eyes
In Civilization: An Essay (1928), 138.
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Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing either that they exist or that they do not exist, nor what sort of form they may have; there are many reasons why knowledge on this subject is not possible, owing to the lack of evidence and the shortness of human life.
Protagoras, fr. 1, quoted in E. Hussey, The Pre-Socratics (1972), 109.
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Dead is when the chemists take over the subject.
Lecture at Stanford, 'Is Spectroscopy Dead?', as quoted in Steven Chu and Charles H. Townes, 'Arthur Schawlow', Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences (2003), Vol. 83, 202.
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Deaths, births, and marriages, considering how much they are separately dependent on the freedom of the human will, should seem to be subject to no law according to which any calculation could be made beforehand of their amount; and yet the yearly registers of these events in great countries prove that they go on with as much conformity to the laws of nature as the oscillations of the weather.
'Idea of a Universal history on a Cosmo-Political Plan' (1784). As translated by Thomas De Quinsey in The London Magazine (Oct 1824), 10, 385. Reprinted in 1859 by De Quincey in Vol. 8 of his Collective Edition of his writings.
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Does it not seem as if Algebra had attained to the dignity of a fine art, in which the workman has a free hand to develop his conceptions, as in a musical theme or a subject for a painting? It has reached a point where every properly developed algebraical composition, like a skillful landscape, is expected to suggest the notion of an infinite distance lying beyond the limits of the canvas.
In 'Lectures on the Theory of Reciprocants', Lecture XXI, American Journal of Mathematics (Jul 1886), 9, No. 3, 136.
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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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Every discipline must be honored for reason other than its utility, otherwise it yields no enthusiasm for industry.
For both reasons, I consider mathematics the chief subject for the common school. No more highly honored exercise for the mind can be found; the buoyancy [Spannkraft] which it produces is even greater than that produced by the ancient languages, while its utility is unquestioned.
In 'Mathematischer Lehrplan für Realschulen' Werke [Kehrbach] (1890), Bd. 5, 167. (Mathematics Curriculum for Secondary Schools). As quoted, cited and translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 61.
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Everything material which is the subject of knowledge has number, order, or position; and these are her first outlines for a sketch of the universe. If our feeble hands cannot follow out the details, still her part has been drawn with an unerring pen, and her work cannot be gainsaid. So wide is the range of mathematical sciences, so indefinitely may it extend beyond our actual powers of manipulation that at some moments we are inclined to fall down with even more than reverence before her majestic presence. But so strictly limited are her promises and powers, about so much that we might wish to know does she offer no information whatever, that at other moments we are fain to call her results but a vain thing, and to reject them as a stone where we had asked for bread. If one aspect of the subject encourages our hopes, so does the other tend to chasten our desires, and he is perhaps the wisest, and in the long run the happiest, among his fellows, who has learned not only this science, but also the larger lesson which it directly teaches, namely, to temper our aspirations to that which is possible, to moderate our desires to that which is attainable, to restrict our hopes to that of which accomplishment, if not immediately practicable, is at least distinctly within the range of conception.
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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Evolutionists sometimes take as haughty an attitude toward the next level up the conventional ladder of disciplines: the human sciences. They decry the supposed atheoretical particularism of their anthropological colleagues and argue that all would be well if only the students of humanity regarded their subject as yet another animal and therefore yielded explanatory control to evolutionary biologists.
From book review, 'The Ghost of Protagoras', The New York Review of Books (22 Jan 1981), 27, No. 21 & 22. Collected in An Urchin in the Storm: Essays about Books and Ideas (1987, 2010), 64. The article reviewed two books: John Tyler Bonner, The Evolution of Culture and Peter J. Wilson, The Promising Primate.
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Exobiology—a curious development in view of the fact that this “science” has yet to demonstrate that its subject matter exists!
In This View of Life: The World of the Evolutionist (1964), 254.
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Faraday, … by his untiring faithfulness in keeping his diary, contributes to our understanding the objects of his scientific research in magnetism, electricity and light, but he also makes us understand the scientist himself, as a living subject, the mind in action.
In 'The Scientific Grammar of Michael Faraday’s Diaries', Part I, 'The Classic of Science', A Classic and a Founder (1937), collected in Rosenstock-Huessy Papers (1981), Vol. 1, 2.
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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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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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Fourier’s Theorem … is not only one of the most beautiful results of modern analysis, but it may be said to furnish an indispensable instrument in the treatment of nearly every recondite question in modern physics. To mention only sonorous vibrations, the propagation of electric signals along a telegraph wire, and the conduction of heat by the earth’s crust, as subjects in their generality intractable without it, is to give but a feeble idea of its importance.
In William Thomson and Peter Guthrie Tait, Treatise on Natural Philosophy (1867), Vol. 1, 28.
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Freudian psychoanalytical theory is a mythology that answers pretty well to Levi-Strauss's descriptions. It brings some kind of order into incoherence; it, too, hangs together, makes sense, leaves no loose ends, and is never (but never) at a loss for explanation. In a state of bewilderment it may therefore bring comfort and relief … give its subject a new and deeper understanding of his own condition and of the nature of his relationship to his fellow men. A mythical structure will be built up around him which makes sense and is believable-in, regardless of whether or not it is true.
From 'Science and Literature', The Hope of Progress: A Scientist Looks at Problems in Philosophy, Literature and Science (1973), 29.
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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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From the infinitely great down to the infinitely small, all things are subject to [the laws of nature]. The sun and the planets follow the laws discovered by Newton and Laplace, just as the atoms in their combinations follow the laws of chemistry, as living creatures follow the laws of biology. It is only the imperfections of the human mind which multiply the divisions of the sciences, separating astronomy from physics or chemistry, the natural sciences from the social sciences. In essence, science is one. It is none other than the truth.
In Cours d’Economie Politique (1896-97).
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Genetics was, I would say, the first part of biology to become a pretty good theoretical subject, based on the theory of the gene and patterns of inheritance of characteristics.
From interview with Neil A. Campbell, in 'Crossing the Boundaries of Science', BioScience (Dec 1986), 36, No. 11, 738.
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Good scholars struggle to understand the world in an integral way (pedants bite off tiny bits and worry them to death). These visions of reality ... demand our respect, for they are an intellectual’s only birthright. They are often entirely wrong and always flawed in serious ways, but they must be understood honorably and not subjected to mayhem by the excision of patches.
…...
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He is a learned man that understands one subject, a very learned man that understands two.
In Hialmer Day Gould, New Practical Spelling (1905), 14.
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His subject is the “Origin of Species,” & not the origin of Organization; & it seems a needless mischief to have opened the latter speculation at all.
In a letter to Fannie Wedgwood (13 Mar 1860), in Harriet Martineau's Letters to Fanny Wedgwood (1983), 189.
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Historically, Statistics is no more than State Arithmetic, a system of computation by which differences between individuals are eliminated by the taking of an average. It has been used—indeed, still is used—to enable rulers to know just how far they may safely go in picking the pockets of their subjects.
In Facts from Figures (1951), 1.
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How can he [Thomas Edison] call it a wonderful success when everyone acquainted with the subject will recognize it as a conspicuous failure?
In The New York Herald, (18 Dec 1879). As quoted and cited in Rob Kaplan (ed.), Science Says (2001), 200.
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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 could science be any enemy of religion when God commanded man to be a scientist the day He told him to rule the earth and subject it?
In The Life of All Living: the philosophy of life (1929, 1942), 212.
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However, if we consider that all the characteristics which have been cited are only differences in degree of structure, may we not suppose that this special condition of organization of man has been gradually acquired at the close of a long period of time, with the aid of circumstances which have proved favorable? What a subject for reflection for those who have the courage to enter into it!
In Recherches sur l'Organization des corps vivans (1802), as translated in Alpheus Spring Packard, Lamarck, the Founder of Evolution: His Life and Work (1901), 363. Packard's italics.
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I am never content until I have constructed a mechanical model of the subject I am studying. If I succeed in making one, I understand. Otherwise, I do not. [Attributed; source unverified.]
Note: Webmaster has been unable to verify this quotation allegedly from his Baltimore Lectures. Is is widely quoted, usually without citation. A few instances indicate the quote came from a guest lecture, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore (1884). The lecture notes were published in Baltimore Lectures on Molecular Dynamics and the Wave Theory of Light (1904). Webmaster has found no citation giving a page number, and has been unable to find the quote in that text. Anyone with more specific information, please contact Webmaster.
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I am of the decided opinion, that mathematical instruction must have for its first aim a deep penetration and complete command of abstract mathematical theory together with a clear insight into the structure of the system, and doubt not that the instruction which accomplishes this is valuable and interesting even if it neglects practical applications. If the instruction sharpens the understanding, if it arouses the scientific interest, whether mathematical or philosophical, if finally it calls into life an esthetic feeling for the beauty of a scientific edifice, the instruction will take on an ethical value as well, provided that with the interest it awakens also the impulse toward scientific activity. I contend, therefore, that even without reference to its applications mathematics in the high schools has a value equal to that of the other subjects of instruction.
In 'Ueber das Lehrziel im mathemalischen Unterricht der höheren Realanstalten', Jahresbericht der Deutschen Mathematiker Vereinigung, 2, 192. (The Annual Report of the German Mathematical Association. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 73.
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I believe myself to possess a most singular combination of qualities exactly fitted to make me pre-eminently a discoverer of the hidden realities of nature… the belief has been forced upon me…
Firstly: Owing to some peculiarity in my nervous system, I have perceptions of some things, which no one else has… and intuitive perception of… things hidden from eyes, ears, & ordinary senses…
Secondly: my sense reasoning faculties;
Thirdly: my concentration faculty, by which I mean the power not only of throwing my whole energy & existence into whatever I choose, but also of bringing to bear on anyone subject or idea, a vast apparatus from all sorts of apparently irrelevant & extraneous sources…
Well, here I have written what most people would call a remarkably mad letter; & yet certainly one of the most logical, sober-minded, cool, pieces of composition, (I believe), that I ever framed.
Lovelace Papers, Bodleian Library, Oxford University, 42, folio 12 (6 Feb 1841). As quoted and cited in Dorothy Stein (ed.), 'This First Child of Mine', Ada: A Life and a Legacy (1985), 86.
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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 contend that the continued racial classification of Homo sapiens represents an outmoded approach to the general problem of differentiation within a species. In other words, I reject a racial classification of humans for the same reasons that I prefer not to divide into subspecies the prodigiously variable West Indian land snails that form the subject of my own research.
…...
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I count Maxwell and Einstein, Eddington and Dirac, among “real” mathematicians. The great modern achievements of applied mathematics have been in relativity and quantum mechanics, and these subjects are at present at any rate, almost as “useless” as the theory of numbers.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 131.
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I do not maintain that the chief value of the study of arithmetic consists in the lessons of morality that arise from this study. I claim only that, to be impressed from day to day, that there is something that is right as an answer to the questions with which one is able to grapple, and that there is a wrong answer—that there are ways in which the right answer can be established as right, that these ways automatically reject error and slovenliness, and that the learner is able himself to manipulate these ways and to arrive at the establishment of the true as opposed to the untrue, this relentless hewing to the line and stopping at the line, must color distinctly the thought life of the pupil with more than a tinge of morality. … To be neighborly with truth, to feel one’s self somewhat facile in ways of recognizing and establishing what is right, what is correct, to find the wrong persistently and unfailingly rejected as of no value, to feel that one can apply these ways for himself, that one can think and work independently, have a real, a positive, and a purifying effect upon moral character. They are the quiet, steady undertones of the work that always appeal to the learner for the sanction of his best judgment, and these are the really significant matters in school work. It is not the noise and bluster, not even the dramatics or the polemics from the teacher’s desk, that abide longest and leave the deepest and stablest imprint upon character. It is these still, small voices that speak unmistakably for the right and against the wrong and the erroneous that really form human character. When the school subjects are arranged on the basis of the degree to which they contribute to the moral upbuilding of human character good arithmetic will be well up the list.
In Arithmetic in Public Education (1909), 18. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 69.
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I have said that mathematics is the oldest of the sciences; a glance at its more recent history will show that it has the energy of perpetual youth. The output of contributions to the advance of the science during the last century and more has been so enormous that it is difficult to say whether pride in the greatness of achievement in this subject, or despair at his inability to cope with the multiplicity of its detailed developments, should be the dominant feeling of the mathematician. Few people outside of the small circle of mathematical specialists have any idea of the vast growth of mathematical literature. The Royal Society Catalogue contains a list of nearly thirty- nine thousand papers on subjects of Pure Mathematics alone, which have appeared in seven hundred serials during the nineteenth century. This represents only a portion of the total output, the very large number of treatises, dissertations, and monographs published during the century being omitted.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Sheffield, Section A, Nature (1 Sep 1910), 84, 285.
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I have steadily endeavored to keep my mind free so as to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (and I cannot resist forming one on every subject) as soon as the facts are shown to be opposed to it.
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I simply believe that some part of the human Self or Soul is not subject to the laws of space and time.
Carl Jung
In The Guardian, (19 Jul 1975), 9. Also quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 36
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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.
This is the original quote, which gave rise to the commonly seen misstated shortened quote as: “Progress in science depends on new techniques, new discoveries and new ideas, probably in that order”—with the qualifying words “interplay” and “decreasing importance” omitted. From Brenner’s own handwritten notes of a Speech (20 Mar 1980), 'Biology in the 1980s', at the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel, Switzerland. Reproduced in his article 'Life sentences: Detective Rummage investigates', The Scientist (19 Aug 2002), 16, No. 16, 15. He reflects on the original wording of the quote, from his notes that he “came across”, while rummaging through “the piles of papers that I have accumulated,” (hence “Detective Rummage” in the title). See more on the commonly seen misstated shortened quote also on the Sydney Brenner Quotes web page of this site, beginning, “Progress in science…”.
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If a teacher is full of his subject, and can induce enthusiasm in his pupils; if his facts are concrete and naturally connected, the amount of material that an average child can assimilate without injury is as astonishing as is the little that will fag him if it is a trifle above or below or remote from him, or taught dully or incoherently.
In The North American Review (Mar 1883), No. 316, 289.
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If there were some deep principle that drove organic systems towards living systems, the operation of the principle should easily be demonstrable in a test tube in half a morning. Needless to say, no such demonstration has ever been given. Nothing happens when organic materials are subjected to the usual prescription of showers of electrical sparks or drenched in ultraviolet light, except the eventual production of a tarry sludge.
…...
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If we range through the whole territory of nature, and endeavour to extract from each department the rich stores of knowledge and pleasure they respectively contain, we shall not find a more refined or purer source of amusement, or a more interesting and unfailing subject for recreation, than that which the observation and examination of the structure, affinities, and habits of plants and vegetables, afford.
In A Practical Treatise on the Cultivation of the Dahlia (1838), 2.
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If you are young, then I say: Learn something about statistics as soon as you can. Don’t dismiss it through ignorance or because it calls for thought. … If you are older and already crowned with the laurels of success, see to it that those under your wing who look to you for advice are encouraged to look into this subject. In this way you will show that your arteries are not yet hardened, and you will be able to reap the benefits without doing overmuch work yourself. Whoever you are, if your work calls for the interpretation of data, you may be able to do without statistics, but you won’t do as well.
In Facts from Figures (1951), 463.
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In 1847 I gave an address at Newton, Mass., before a Teachers’ Institute conducted by Horace Mann. My subject was grasshoppers. I passed around a large jar of these insects, and made every teacher take one and hold it while I was speaking. If any one dropped the insect, I stopped till he picked it up. This was at that time a great innovation, and excited much laughter and derision. There can be no true progress in the teaching of natural science until such methods become general.
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In every science certain things must be accepted as first principles if the subject matter is to be understood; and these first postulates rest upon faith.
As quoted, without citation, in Ronald Keast, Dancing in the Dark: The Waltz in Wonder of Quantum Metaphysics (2009), 104-105. If you know a primary source, please contact Webmaster.
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In nature hybrid species are usually sterile, but in science the reverse is often true. Hybrid subjects are often astonishingly fertile, whereas if a scientific discipline remains too pure it usually wilts.
In What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery (1988), 150.
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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 summary, all great work is the fruit of patience and perseverance, combined with tenacious concentration on a subject over a period of months or years.
From Reglas y Consejos sobre Investigacíon Cientifica: Los tónicos de la voluntad. (1897), as translated by Neely and Larry W. Swanson, in Advice for a Young Investigator (1999), 38.
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Indeed, the aim of teaching [mathematics] should be rather to strengthen his [the pupil’s] faculties, and to supply a method of reasoning applicable to other subjects, than to furnish him with an instrument for solving practical problems.
In John Perry (ed.), Discussion on the Teaching of Mathematics (1901), 84. The discussion took place on 14 Sep 1901 at the British Association at Glasgow, during a joint meeting of the mathematics and physics sections with the education section. The proceedings began with an address by John Perry. Magnus spoke in the Discussion that followed.
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Intelligence is important in psychology for two reasons. First, it is one of the most scientifically developed corners of the subject, giving the student as complete a view as is possible anywhere of the way scientific method can be applied to psychological problems. Secondly, it is of immense practical importance, educationally, socially, and in regard to physiology and genetics.
From Intelligence: Its Structure, Growth and Action: Its Structure, Growth and Action (1987), 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 frequently happens that two persons, reasoning right on a mechanical subject, think alike and invent the same thing without any communication with each other.
As quoted by Coleman Sellers, Jr., in his Lecture (20 Nov 1885) delivered at the Franklin Institute. Printed in Coleman Sellers, Jr., 'Oliver Evans and his Inventions', Journal of the Franklin Institute (Jul 1886), 122, No. 1, 15.
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It has sometimes been said that the success of the Origin proved “that the subject was in the air,” or “that men's minds were prepared for it.” I do not think that this is strictly true, for I occasionally sounded not a few naturalists, and never happened to come across a single one who seemed to doubt about the permanence of species.
In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters (1892), 42.
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It is above all the duty of the methodical text-book to adapt itself to the pupil’s power of comprehension, only challenging his higher efforts with the increasing development of his imagination, his logical power and the ability of abstraction. This indeed constitutes a test of the art of teaching, it is here where pedagogic tact becomes manifest. In reference to the axioms, caution is necessary. It should be pointed out comparatively early, in how far the mathematical body differs from the material body. Furthermore, since mathematical bodies are really portions of space, this space is to be conceived as mathematical space and to be clearly distinguished from real or physical space. Gradually the student will become conscious that the portion of the real space which lies beyond the visible stellar universe is not cognizable through the senses, that we know nothing of its properties and consequently have no basis for judgments concerning it. Mathematical space, on the other hand, may be subjected to conditions, for instance, we may condition its properties at infinity, and these conditions constitute the axioms, say the Euclidean axioms. But every student will require years before the conviction of the truth of this last statement will force itself upon him.
In Methodisches Lehrbuch der Elementar-Mathemalik (1904), Teil I, Vorwort, 4-5.
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It is also vital to a valuable education that independent critical thinking be developed in the young human being, a development that is greatly jeopardized by overburdening with too much and too varied subjects. Overburdening necessarily leads to superficiality.
From interview with Benjamin Fine, 'Einstein Stresses Critical Thinking', New York Times (5 Oct 1952), 37. [Here, “superficiality” has been inserted as a correction for a typo, “superciality”, in the original text. —Webmaster]
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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 not Cayley’s way to analyze concepts into their ultimate elements. … But he is master of the empirical utilization of the material: in the way he combines it to form a single abstract concept which he generalizes and then subjects to computative tests, in the way the newly acquired data are made to yield at a single stroke the general comprehensive idea to the subsequent numerical verification of which years of labor are devoted. Cayley is thus the natural philosopher among mathematicians.
In Mathematische Annalen, Bd. 46 (1895), 479. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 146.
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It is sages and grey-haired philosophers who ought to sit up all night reading Alice in Wonderland in order to study that darkest problem of metaphysics, the borderland between reason and unreason, and the nature of the most erratic of spiritual forces, humour, which eternally dances between the two. That we do find a pleasure in certain long and elaborate stories, in certain complicated and curious forms of diction, which have no intelligible meaning whatever, is not a subject for children to play with; it is a subject for psychologists to go mad over.
In 'The Library of the Nursery', in Lunacy and Letters (1958), 26.
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It is this mythical, or rather this symbolic, content of the religious traditions which is likely to come into conflict with science. This occurs whenever this religious stock of ideas contains dogmatically fixed statements on subjects which be long in the domain of science. Thus, it is of vital importance for the preservation of true religion that such conflicts be avoided when they arise from subjects which, in fact, are not really essential for the pursuance of the religious aims.
…...
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It may be conceit, but I believe the subject will interest the public, and I am sure that the views are original.
Letter to his publisher, John Murray (5 Apr 1959). In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (1887), Vol. 2, 155.
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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 was not alone the striving for universal culture which attracted the great masters of the Renaissance, such as Brunellesco, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo and especially Albrecht Dürer, with irresistible power to the mathematical sciences. They were conscious that, with all the freedom of the individual fantasy, art is subject to necessary laws, and conversely, with all its rigor of logical structure, mathematics follows aesthetic laws.
From Lecture (5 Feb 1891) held at the Rathhaus, Zürich, printed as Ueber den Antheil der mathematischen Wissenschaft an der Kultur der Renaissance (1892), 19. (The Contribution of the Mathematical Sciences to the Culture of the Renaissance.) As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 183.
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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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Just as it will never be successfully challenged that the French language, progressively developing and growing more perfect day by day, has the better claim to serve as a developed court and world language, so no one will venture to estimate lightly the debt which the world owes to mathematicians, in that they treat in their own language matters of the utmost importance, and govern, determine and decide whatever is subject, using the word in the highest sense, to number and measurement.
In 'Sprüche in Prosa', Natur, III, 868.
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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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Kurt Gödel’s achievement in modern logic is singular and monumental—indeed it is more than a monument, it is a landmark which will remain visible far in space and time. … The subject of logic has certainly completely changed its nature and possibilities with Gödel's achievement.
From remarks at the Presentation (Mar 1951) of the Albert Einstein Award to Dr. Gödel, as quoted in 'Tribute to Dr. Gödel', in Jack J. Bulloff, ‎Thomas C. Holyok (eds.), Foundations of Mathematics: Symposium Papers Commemorating the Sixtieth Birthday of Kurt Gödel (1969), ix. https://books.google.com/books?id=irZLAAAAMAAJ Kurt Gödel, ‎Jack J. Bulloff, ‎Thomas C. Holyoke - 1969 -
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Learn just enough of the subject [metaphysics] to enable your mind to get rid of it.
As quoted in Geoffrey Madan’s Notebooks: A Selection (1984), 61.
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Let no one say that I have said nothing new; the arrangement of the subject is new. When we play tennis, we both play with the same ball, but one of us places it better.
In Pensées (1670), Section 7, No. 9. From Blaise Pascal and W.F. Trotter (trans.), 'Thoughts', collected in Charles W. Eliot (ed.), The Harvard Classics (1910), Vol. 48, 14. From the French, “Qu’on ne dise pas que je n’ai rien dit de nouveau: la disposition des matières est nouvelle. Quand on joue à la paume, c’est une même balle dont on joue l’un et l’autre; mais l’un la place mieux,” in Oeuvres Complètes de Blaise Pascal (1864), Vol. 1, 287.
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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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Logic is not concerned with human behavior in the same sense that physiology, psychology, and social sciences are concerned with it. These sciences formulate laws or universal statements which have as their subject matter human activities as processes in time. Logic, on the contrary, is concerned with relations between factual sentences (or thoughts). If logic ever discusses the truth of factual sentences it does so only conditionally, somewhat as follows: if such-and-such a sentence is true, then such-and-such another sentence is true. Logic itself does not decide whether the first sentence is true, but surrenders that question to one or the other of the empirical sciences.
Logic (1937). In The Language of Wisdom and Folly: Background Readings in Semantics (1967), 44.
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Many people regard mathematicians as a race apart, possessed of almost supernatural powers. While this is very flattering for successful mathematicians, it is very bad for those who, for one reason or another, are attempting to learn the subject.
Opening paragraph in Chap. 1 of Mathematician's Delight (1943, 2012), 7.
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Mathematic is either Pure or Mixed: To Pure Mathematic belong those sciences which handle Quantity entirely severed from matter and from axioms of natural philosophy. These are two, Geometry and Arithmetic; the one handling quantity continued, the other dissevered. … Mixed Mathematic has for its subject some axioms and parts of natural philosophy, and considers quantity in so far as it assists to explain, demonstrate and actuate these.
In De Augmentis, Bk. 3; Advancement of Learning, Bk. 2.
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Mathematic stands forth as that which unites, mediates between Man and Nature, Inner and Outer world, Thought and Perception, [as no other subject does].
In Die Erziehung der Menschheit (1826). Adapted and translated in William Henry Herford, 'The School: Mathematic', The Student’s Froebel (1894), Vol. 1, 84.
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Mathematical proofs are essentially of three different types: pre-formal; formal; post-formal. Roughly the first and third prove something about that sometimes clear and empirical, sometimes vague and ‘quasi-empirical’ stuff, which is the real though rather evasive subject of mathematics.
In Mathematics, Science and Epistemology (1980), Vol. 2, 69.
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Mathematics because of its nature and structure is peculiarly fitted for high school instruction [Gymnasiallehrfach]. Especially the higher mathematics, even if presented only in its elements, combines within itself all those qualities which are demanded of a secondary subject.
In Die Mathematik die Fackelträgerin einer neuen Zeit (1889), 40. As translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 49.
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Mathematics has beauties of its own—a symmetry and proportion in its results, a lack of superfluity, an exact adaptation of means to ends, which is exceedingly remarkable and to be found only in the works of the greatest beauty. … When this subject is properly and concretely presented, the mental emotion should be that of enjoyment of beauty, not that of repulsion from the ugly and the unpleasant.
In The Teaching of Mathematics in the Elementary and the Secondary School (1906), 44-45.
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Mathematics is not a contemplative but a creative subject.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 43.
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Mathematics is often erroneously referred to as the science of common sense. Actually, it may transcend common sense and go beyond either imagination or intuition. It has become a very strange and perhaps frightening subject from the ordinary point of view, but anyone who penetrates into it will find a veritable fairyland, a fairyland which is strange, but makes sense, if not common sense.
With co-author James R. Newman, in Mathematics and the Imagination (1940), 359.
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Mathematics is perfectly free in its development and is subject only to the obvious consideration, that its concepts must be free from contradictions in themselves, as well as definitely and orderly related by means of definitions to the previously existing and established concepts.
In Grundlagen einer allgemeinen Manigfaltigkeitslehre (1883), Sect. 8.
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Mathematics may be defined as the the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, not whether what we are saying is true.
In 'Recent Work on the Principles of Mathematics', International Monthly (1901), 4, 84. This sentence is part of a longer quote that begins, “Pure mathematics consists entirely…”, on the Bertrand Russell Quotes page of this website.
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Mathematics … is man’s own handiwork, subject only to the limitations imposed by the laws of thought.
With co-author James R. Newman, in Mathematics and the Imagination (1940), 359.
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Mathematics, among all school subjects, is especially adapted to further clearness, definite brevity and precision in expression, although it offers no exercise in flights of rhetoric. This is due in the first place to the logical rigour with which it develops thought, avoiding every departure from the shortest, most direct way, never allowing empty phrases to enter. Other subjects excel in the development of expression in other respects: translation from foreign languages into the mother tongue gives exercise in finding the proper word for the given foreign word and gives knowledge of laws of syntax, the study of poetry and prose furnish fit patterns for connected presentation and elegant form of expression, composition is to exercise the pupil in a like presentation of his own or borrowed thoughtsand their development, the natural sciences teach description of natural objects, apparatus and processes, as well as the statement of laws on the grounds of immediate sense-perception. But all these aids for exercise in the use of the mother tongue, each in its way valuable and indispensable, do not guarantee, in the same manner as mathematical training, the exclusion of words whose concepts, if not entirely wanting, are not sufficiently clear. They do not furnish in the same measure that which the mathematician demands particularly as regards precision of expression.
In Anleitung zum mathematischen Unterricht in höheren Schulen (1906), 17.
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Method means that arrangement of subject matter which makes it most effective in use. Never is method something outside of the material.
Democracy and Education: an Introduction to the Philosophy of Education (1916), 194.
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Modern cytological work involves an intricacy of detail, the significance of which can be appreciated by the specialist alone; but Miss Stevens had a share in a discovery of importance, and her work will be remembered for this, when the minutiae of detailed investigations that she carried out have become incorporated in the general body of the subject.
In obituary, 'The Scientific Work of Miss N.M. Steves', Science (11 Oct 1912), 36, No. 928, 468.
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My profession often gets bad press for a variety of sins, both actual and imagined: arrogance, venality, insensitivity to moral issues about the use of knowledge, pandering to sources of funding with insufficient worry about attendant degradation of values. As an advocate for science, I plead ‘mildly guilty now and then’ to all these charges. Scientists are human beings subject to all the foibles and temptations of ordinary life. Some of us are moral rocks; others are reeds. I like to think (though I have no proof) that we are better, on average, than members of many other callings on a variety of issues central to the practice of good science: willingness to alter received opinion in the face of uncomfortable data, dedication to discovering and publicizing our best and most honest account of nature’s factuality, judgment of colleagues on the might of their ideas rather than the power of their positions.
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Mythology is wondrous, a balm for the soul. But its problems cannot be ignored. At worst, it buys inspiration at the price of physical impossibility ... At best, it purveys the same myopic view of history that made this most fascinating subject so boring and misleading in grade school as a sequential take of monarchs and battles.
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Nature does not consist entirely, or even largely, of problems designed by a Grand Examiner to come out neatly in finite terms, and whatever subject we tackle the first need is to overcome timidity about approximating.
As co-author with Bertha Swirles Jeffreys, in Methods of Mathematical Physics (1946, 1999), 8.
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Nearly every subject has a shadow, or imitation. It would, I suppose, be quite possible to teach a deaf and dumb child to play the piano. When it played a wrong note, it would see the frown of its teacher, and try again. But it would obviously have no idea of what it was doing, or why anyone should devote hours to such an extraordinary exercise. It would have learnt an imitation of music. and it would fear the piano exactly as most students fear what is supposed to be mathematics.
In Mathematician's Delight (1943), 8.
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Never leave an unsolved difficulty behind. I mean, don’t go any further in that book till the difficulty is conquered. In this point, Mathematics differs entirely from most other subjects. Suppose you are reading an Italian book, and come to a hopelessly obscure sentence—don’t waste too much time on it, skip it, and go on; you will do very well without it. But if you skip a mathematical difficulty, it is sure to crop up again: you will find some other proof depending on it, and you will only get deeper and deeper into the mud.
From letter to Edith Rix with hints for studying (about Mar 1885), in Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll (1898), 241.
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Newton could not admit that there was any difference between him and other men, except in the possession of such habits as … perseverance and vigilance. When he was asked how he made his discoveries, he answered, “by always thinking about them;” and at another time he declared that if he had done anything, it was due to nothing but industry and patient thought: “I keep the subject of my inquiry constantly before me, and wait till the first dawning opens gradually, by little and little, into a full and clear light.”
In History of the Inductive Sciences, Bk. 7, chap, 1, sect. 5.
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Next to ignorance of the grammar of one’s native language, nothing betrays want of information so soon as ignorance in matters of geography, without which it is almost impossible to carry on conversation long on any general subject.
In The Statistical Breviary: Shewing, on a Principle Entirely New, the Resources of Every State and Kingdom in Europe (1801), 5.
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No man can be truly called an entomologist, sir; the subject is too vast for any single human intelligence to grasp.
In 'The Poet at the Breakfast Table: II', The Atlantic Monthly (Feb 1872), 29, 231.
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No other subject has such clear-cut or unanimously accepted standards, and the men who are remembered are almost always the men who merit it. Mathematical fame, if you have the cash to pay for it, is one of the soundest and steadiest of investments.
In A Mathematician's Apology (1940, 2012), 82.
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No physician, in so far as he is a physician, considers his own good in what he prescribes, but the good of his patient; for the true physician is also a ruler having the human body as a subject, and is not a mere money-maker.
Plato
In Plato and B. Jowett (trans.), The Dialogues of Plato (1875), Vol. 3, 211.
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No school subject so readily furnishes tasks whose purpose can be made so clear, so immediate and so appealing to the sober second-thought of the immature learner as the right sort of elementary school mathematics.
In Arithmetic in Public Education (1909), 8. As quoted and cited in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-book (1914), 50.
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No scientific subject has ever aroused quite the same mixture of hopes and fears [as atomic energy].
In Presidential address to the Annual Meeting of the British Association (Sep 1947), as quoted in Brian Austin, Schonland: Scientist and Soldier: From Lightning on the Veld to Nuclear Power at Harwell: The Life of Field Marshal Montgomery's Scientific Adviser (2010), 459.
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No study is less alluring or more dry and tedious than statistics, unless the mind and imagination are set to work, or that the person studying is particularly interested in the subject; which last can seldom be the case with young men in any rank of life.
In The Statistical Breviary: Shewing, on a Principle Entirely New, the Resources of Every State and Kingdom in Europe (1801), 16.
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Nobody, I suppose, could devote many years to the study of chemical kinetics without being deeply conscious of the fascination of time and change: this is something that goes outside science into poetry; but science, subject to the rigid necessity of always seeking closer approximations to the truth, itself contains many poetical elements.
From Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1956), collected in Nobel Lectures in Chemistry (1999), 474.
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Nothing afflicted Marcellus so much as the death of Archimedes, who was then, as fate would have it, intent upon working out some problem by a diagram, and having fixed his mind alike and his eyes upon the subject of his speculation, he never noticed the incursion of the Romans, nor that the city was taken. In this transport of study and contemplation, a soldier, unexpectedly coming up to him, commanded him to follow to Marcellus, which he declined to do before he had worked out his problem to a demonstration; the soldier, enraged, drew his sword and ran him through. Others write, that a Roman soldier, running upon him with a drawn sword, offered to kill him; and that Archimedes, looking back, earnestly besought him to hold his hand a little while, that he might not leave what he was at work upon inconclusive and imperfect; but the soldier, nothing moved by his entreaty, instantly killed him. Others again relate, that as Archimedes was carrying to Marcellus mathematical instruments, dials, spheres, and angles, by which the magnitude of the sun might be measured to the sight, some soldiers seeing him, and thinking that he carried gold in a vessel, slew him. Certain it is, that his death was very afflicting to Marcellus; and that Marcellus ever after regarded him that killed him as a murderer; and that he sought for his kindred and honoured them with signal favours.
Plutarch
In John Dryden (trans.), Life of Marcellus.
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Of all many-sided subjects, [education] is the one which has the greatest number of sides.
Inaugural Address Delivered to the University of St. Andrews, Feb. 1st, 1867 (1867), 3.
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Of all the intellectual faculties, judgment is the last to arrive at maturity. The child should give its attention either to subjects where no error is possible at all, such as mathematics, or to those in which there is no particular danger in making a mistake, such as languages, natural science, history, and so on.
In Arthur Schopenhauer and T. Bailey (ed., trans.) Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer (1902), 67.
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One of the principal objects of theoretical research in my department of knowledge is to find the point of view from which the subject appears in its greatest simplicity.
In letter published in Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1881), 420.
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Our failure to discern a universal good does not record any lack of insight or ingenuity, but merely demonstrates that nature contains no moral messages framed in human terms. Morality is a subject for philosophers, theologians, students of the humanities, indeed for all thinking people. The answers will not be read passively from nature; they do not, and cannot, arise from the data of science. The factual state of the world does not teach us how we, with our powers for good and evil, should alter or preserve it in the most ethical manner.
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Our treatment of this science will be adequate, if it achieves the amount of precision which belongs to its subject matter.
Aristotle
In Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1, Chap 3. In Harris Rackham (trans.), Aristotle’s Ethics for English Readers (1943), 14.
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Philosophers no longer write for the intelligent, only for their fellow professionals. The few thousand academic philosophers in the world do not stint themselves: they maintain more than seventy learned journals. But in the handful that cover more than one subdivision of philosophy, any given philosopher can hardly follow more than one or two articles in each issue. This hermetic condition is attributed to “technical problems” in the subject. Since William James, Russell, and Whitehead, philosophy, like history, has been confiscated by scholarship and locked away from the contamination of general use.
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Philosophy, and science, and the springs
Of wonder, and th wisdom of the world,
I have essayed; and in my mind there is
A power to make these subject to itself...
From poem 'Manfred'.
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Physics does not change the nature of the world it studies, and no science of behavior can change the essential nature of man, even though both sciences yield technologies with a vast power to manipulate their subject matters.
In article 'Man', Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (1964), 108, 482-85. Collected in Cumulative Record: Definitive Edition (2015).
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Poor teaching leads to the inevitable idea that the subject [mathematics] is only adapted to peculiar minds, when it is the one universal science and the one whose four ground-rules are taught us almost in infancy and reappear in the motions of the universe.
In Mathematical Teaching (1907), 19.
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Professor Sylvester’s first high class at the new university Johns Hopkins consisted of only one student, G. B. Halsted, who had persisted in urging Sylvester to lecture on the modem algebra. The attempt to lecture on this subject led him into new investigations in quantics.
In Teaching and History of Mathematics in the United States (1890), 264.
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Pure mathematics and physics are becoming ever more closely connected, though their methods remain different. One may describe the situation by saying that the mathematician plays a game in which he himself invents the rules while the while the physicist plays a game in which the rules are provided by Nature, but as time goes on it becomes increasingly evident that the rules which the mathematician finds interesting are the same as those which Nature has chosen. … Possibly, the two subjects will ultimately unify, every branch of pure mathematics then having its physical application, its importance in physics being proportional to its interest in mathematics.
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, 124.
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Quite distinct from the theoretical question of the manner in which mathematics will rescue itself from the perils to which it is exposed by its own prolific nature is the practical problem of finding means of rendering available for the student the results which have been already accumulated, and making it possible for the learner to obtain some idea of the present state of the various departments of mathematics. … The great mass of mathematical literature will be always contained in Journals and Transactions, but there is no reason why it should not be rendered far more useful and accessible than at present by means of treatises or higher text-books. The whole science suffers from want of avenues of approach, and many beautiful branches of mathematics are regarded as difficult and technical merely because they are not easily accessible. … I feel very strongly that any introduction to a new subject written by a competent person confers a real benefit on the whole science. The number of excellent text-books of an elementary kind that are published in this country makes it all the more to be regretted that we have so few that are intended for the advanced student. As an example of the higher kind of text-book, the want of which is so badly felt in many subjects, I may mention the second part of Prof. Chrystal’s Algebra published last year, which in a small compass gives a great mass of valuable and fundamental knowledge that has hitherto been beyond the reach of an ordinary student, though in reality lying so close at hand. I may add that in any treatise or higher text-book it is always desirable that references to the original memoirs should be given, and, if possible, short historic notices also. I am sure that no subject loses more than mathematics by any attempt to dissociate it from its history.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section A (1890), Nature, 42, 466.
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Remember this, the rule for giving an extempore lecture is—let the the mind rest from the subject entirely for an interval preceding the lecture, after the notes are prepared; the thoughts will ferment without your knowing it, and enter into new combinations; but if you keep the mind active upon the subject up to the moment, the subject will not ferment but stupefy.
In Letter (10 Jul 1854) to William Rowan Hamilton, collected in Robert Perceval Graves, Life of Sir William Rowan Hamilton (1882-89), Vol. 3, 487.
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Science does not present itself to man until mind conquers matter in striving to subject the result of experimental investigation to rational combinations.
In Alexander Humboldt and E.C. Otté (trans.), 'Introduction', Cosmos: Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe (1852), Vol. 1, 76. The translator’s preface is dated 1844.
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Science fiction films are not about science. They are about disaster, which is one of the oldest subjects of art.
The Imagination of Disaster,' Against Interpretation (1966).
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Science only begins for man from the moment when his mind lays hold of matter—when he tries to subject the mass accumulated by experience to rational combinations.
In 'Introduction', Cosmos: Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe (1849), Vol. 1, 64. Translation “under the superintendence of” Edward Sabine.
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Science, regarded as the pursuit of truth, which can only be attained by patient and unprejudiced investigation, wherein nothing is to be attempted, nothing so minute as to be justly disregarded, must ever afford occupation of consummate interest, and subject of elevated meditation.
On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences (1858), 2-3.
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Scientific subjects do not progress necessarily on the lines of direct usefulness. Very many applications of the theories of pure mathematics have come many years, sometimes centuries, after the actual discoveries themselves. The weapons were at hand, but the men were not able to use them.
In Perry, Teaching of Mathematics (1902), 35.
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Scientists and particularly the professional students of evolution are often accused of a bias toward mechanism or materialism, even though believers in vitalism and in finalism are not lacking among them. Such bias as may exist is inherent in the method of science. The most successful scientific investigation has generally involved treating phenomena as if they were purely materialistic, rejecting any metaphysical hypothesis as long as a physical hypothesis seems possible. The method works. The restriction is necessary because science is confined to physical means of investigation and so it would stultify its own efforts to postulate that its subject is not physical and so not susceptible to its methods.
The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life and of its Significance for Man (1949), 127.
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Louis Agassiz quote: Select such subjects that your pupils cannot walk out without seeing them. Train your pupils to be observer
Select such subjects that your pupils cannot walk out without seeing them. Train your pupils to be observers, and have them provided with the specimens about which you speak. If you can find nothing better, take a house-fly or a cricket, and let each one hold a specimen and examine it as you talk.
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 146.
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She knew only that if she did or said thus-and-so, men would unerringly respond with the complimentary thus-and-so. It was like a mathematical formula and no more difficult, for mathematics was the one subject that had come easy to Scarlett in her schooldays.
In Gone With the Wind (1936), 60.
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Simplification of modes of proof is not merely an indication of advance in our knowledge of a subject, but is also the surest guarantee of readiness for farther progress.
In Lord Kelvin and Peter Guthrie Tait Elements of Natural Philosophy (1873), Preface.
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So the astronomer is on common ground with the physicist both in the subject and in the predicate of the conclusion, but the physicist demonstrates the predicate to belong to the subject by nature, whereas the astronomer does not care whether it belongs by nature or not. What, therefore, is the predicate for the physicist, is abstracted as the subject for the pure mathematician.
As quoted in Alistair Cameron Crombie, Robert Grosseteste and the Origins of Experimental Science, 1100-1700 (1971), 94.
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Statistical accounts are to be referred to as a dictionary by men of riper years, and by young men as a grammar, to teach them the relations and proportions of different statistical subjects, and to imprint them on the mind at a time when the memory is capable of being impressed in a lasting and durable manner, thereby laying the foundation for accurate and valuable knowledge.
In The Statistical Breviary: Shewing, on a Principle Entirely New, the Resources of Every State and Kingdom in Europe (1801), 5-6.
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Suppose then I want to give myself a little training in the art of reasoning; suppose I want to get out of the region of conjecture and probability, free myself from the difficult task of weighing evidence, and putting instances together to arrive at general propositions, and simply desire to know how to deal with my general propositions when I get them, and how to deduce right inferences from them; it is clear that I shall obtain this sort of discipline best in those departments of thought in which the first principles are unquestionably true. For in all our thinking, if we come to erroneous conclusions, we come to them either by accepting false premises to start with—in which case our reasoning, however good, will not save us from error; or by reasoning badly, in which case the data we start from may be perfectly sound, and yet our conclusions may be false. But in the mathematical or pure sciences,—geometry, arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, the calculus of variations or of curves,— we know at least that there is not, and cannot be, error in our first principles, and we may therefore fasten our whole attention upon the processes. As mere exercises in logic, therefore, these sciences, based as they all are on primary truths relating to space and number, have always been supposed to furnish the most exact discipline. When Plato wrote over the portal of his school. “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here,” he did not mean that questions relating to lines and surfaces would be discussed by his disciples. On the contrary, the topics to which he directed their attention were some of the deepest problems,— social, political, moral,—on which the mind could exercise itself. Plato and his followers tried to think out together conclusions respecting the being, the duty, and the destiny of man, and the relation in which he stood to the gods and to the unseen world. What had geometry to do with these things? Simply this: That a man whose mind has not undergone a rigorous training in systematic thinking, and in the art of drawing legitimate inferences from premises, was unfitted to enter on the discussion of these high topics; and that the sort of logical discipline which he needed was most likely to be obtained from geometry—the only mathematical science which in Plato’s time had been formulated and reduced to a system. And we in this country [England] have long acted on the same principle. Our future lawyers, clergy, and statesmen are expected at the University to learn a good deal about curves, and angles, and numbers and proportions; not because these subjects have the smallest relation to the needs of their lives, but because in the very act of learning them they are likely to acquire that habit of steadfast and accurate thinking, which is indispensable to success in all the pursuits of life.
In Lectures on Teaching (1906), 891-92.
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Sylvester was incapable of reading mathematics in a purely receptive way. Apparently a subject either fired in his brain a train of active and restless thought, or it would not retain his attention at all. To a man of such a temperament, it would have been peculiarly helpful to live in an atmosphere in which his human associations would have supplied the stimulus which he could not find in mere reading. The great modern work in the theory of functions and in allied disciplines, he never became acquainted with …
What would have been the effect if, in the prime of his powers, he had been surrounded by the influences which prevail in Berlin or in Gottingen? It may be confidently taken for granted that he would have done splendid work in those domains of analysis, which have furnished the laurels of the great mathematicians of Germany and France in the second half of the present century.
In Address delivered at a memorial meeting at the Johns Hopkins University (2 May 1897), published in Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (Jun 1897), 303. Also in Johns Hopkins University Circulars, 16 (1897), 54.
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Sylvester’s writings are flowery and eloquent. He was able to make the dullest subject bright, fresh and interesting. His enthusiasm is evident in every line. He would get quite close up to his subject, so that everything else looked small in comparison, and for the time would think and make others think that the world contained no finer matter for contemplation. His handwriting was bad, and a trouble to his printers. His papers were finished with difficulty. No sooner was the manuscript in the editor’s hands than alterations, corrections, ameliorations and generalizations would suggest themselves to his mind, and every post would carry further directions to the editors and printers.
In Nature (1897), 55, 494.
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Tait once urged the advantage of Quaternions on Cayley (who never used them), saying: “You know Quaternions are just like a pocket-map.” “That may be,” replied Cayley, “but you’ve got to take it out of your pocket, and unfold it, before it’s of any use.” And he dismissed the subject with a smile.
In Life of Lord Kelvin (1910), 1137.
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Teachers should be able to teach subjects, not manuals merely.
Annual Reports of the Secretary of the Board of Education of Massachusetts for the years 1839-1844, Life and Works of Horace Mann (1891), Vol. 3, 58.
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That ability to impart knowledge … what does it consist of? … a deep belief in the interest and importance of the thing taught, a concern about it amounting to a sort of passion. A man who knows a subject thoroughly, a man so soaked in it that he eats it, sleeps it and dreams it—this man can always teach it with success, no matter how little he knows of technical pedagogy. That is because there is enthusiasm in him, and because enthusiasm is almost as contagious as fear or the barber’s itch. An enthusiast is willing to go to any trouble to impart the glad news bubbling within him. He thinks that it is important and valuable for to know; given the slightest glow of interest in a pupil to start with, he will fan that glow to a flame. No hollow formalism cripples him and slows him down. He drags his best pupils along as fast as they can go, and he is so full of the thing that he never tires of expounding its elements to the dullest.
This passion, so unordered and yet so potent, explains the capacity for teaching that one frequently observes in scientific men of high attainments in their specialties—for example, Huxley, Ostwald, Karl Ludwig, Virchow, Billroth, Jowett, William G. Sumner, Halsted and Osler—men who knew nothing whatever about the so-called science of pedagogy, and would have derided its alleged principles if they had heard them stated.
In Prejudices: third series (1922), 241-2.
For a longer excerpt, see H.L. Mencken on Teaching, Enthusiasm and Pedagogy.
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The ability to imagine relations is one of the most indispensable conditions of all precise thinking. No subject can be named, in the investigation of which it is not imperatively needed; but it can be nowhere else so thoroughly acquired as in the study of mathematics.
In Darwinism and other Essays (1893), 296.
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The actual evolution of mathematical theories proceeds by a process of induction strictly analogous to the method of induction employed in building up the physical sciences; observation, comparison, classification, trial, and generalisation are essential in both cases. Not only are special results, obtained independently of one another, frequently seen to be really included in some generalisation, but branches of the subject which have been developed quite independently of one another are sometimes found to have connections which enable them to be synthesised in one single body of doctrine. The essential nature of mathematical thought manifests itself in the discernment of fundamental identity in the mathematical aspects of what are superficially very different domains. A striking example of this species of immanent identity of mathematical form was exhibited by the discovery of that distinguished mathematician … Major MacMahon, that all possible Latin squares are capable of enumeration by the consideration of certain differential operators. Here we have a case in which an enumeration, which appears to be not amenable to direct treatment, can actually be carried out in a simple manner when the underlying identity of the operation is recognised with that involved in certain operations due to differential operators, the calculus of which belongs superficially to a wholly different region of thought from that relating to Latin squares.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Sheffield, Section A, Nature (1 Sep 1910), 84, 290.
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The art of reasoning consists in getting hold of the subject at the right end, of seizing on the few general ideas that illuminate the whole, and of persistently organizing all subsidiary facts round them.
In 'Presidential Address to the London Branch of the Mathematical Association', Mathematical Gazette (Mar 1913), 7, No. 104, 92.
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The attempted synthesis of paleontology and genetics, an essential part of the present study, may be particularly surprising and possibly hazardous. Not long ago, paleontologists felt that a geneticist was a person who shut himself in a room, pulled down the shades, watched small flies disporting themselves in milk bottles, and thought that he was studying nature. A pursuit so removed from the realities of life, they said, had no significance for the true biologist. On the other hand, the geneticists said that paleontology had no further contributions to make to biology, that its only point had been the completed demonstration of the truth of evolution, and that it was a subject too purely descriptive to merit the name 'science'. The paleontologist, they believed, is like a man who undertakes to study the principles of the internal combustion engine by standing on a street corner and watching the motor cars whiz by.
Tempo and Mode in Evolution (1944), 1.
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The average English author [of mathematical texts] leaves one under the impression that he has made a bargain with his reader to put before him the truth, the greater part of the truth, and nothing but the truth; and that if he has put the facts of his subject into his book, however difficult it may be to unearth them, he has fulfilled his contract with his reader. This is a very much mistaken view, because effective teaching requires a great deal more than a bare recitation of facts, even if these are duly set forth in logical order—as in English books they often are not. The probable difficulties which will occur to the student, the objections which the intelligent student will naturally and necessarily raise to some statement of fact or theory—these things our authors seldom or never notice, and yet a recognition and anticipation of them by the author would be often of priceless value to the student. Again, a touch of humour (strange as the contention may seem) in mathematical works is not only possible with perfect propriety, but very helpful; and I could give instances of this even from the pure mathematics of Salmon and the physics of Clerk Maxwell.
In Perry, Teaching of Mathematics (1902), 59-61.
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The conception of the atom stems from the concepts of subject and substance: there has to be “something” to account for any action. The atom is the last descendant of the concept of the soul.
Epigraph, without citation, in Edward C. Stark, Essential Chemistry (1979), 97. Also without citation in Isaac Asimov and Jason A. Shulman (eds.), Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 32. Webmaster has not yet been able to identify the primary source (can you help?).
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The degree of exactness of the intuition of space may be different in different individuals, perhaps even in different races. It would seem as if a strong naive space-intuition were an attribute pre-eminently of the Teutonic race, while the critical, purely logical sense is more fully developed in the Latin and Hebrew races. A full investigation of this subject, somewhat on the lines suggested by Francis Gallon in his researches on heredity, might be interesting.
In The Evanston Colloquium Lectures (1894), 46.
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The development doctrines are doing much harm on both sides of the Atlantic, especially among intelligent mechanics, and a class of young men engaged in the subordinate departments of trade and the law. And the harm thus considerable in amount must be necessarily more than considerable in degree. For it invariably happens, that when persons in these walks become materialists, they become turbulent subjects and bad men.
The Foot-prints of the Creator: Or, The Asterolepis of Stromness (1850, 1859), Preface, vi.
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The difference between science and the fuzzy subjects is that science requires reasoning while those other subjects merely require scholarship.
In Time Enough For Love: the Lives of Lazarus Long (1973), 366.
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The digestive canal is in its task a complete chemical factory. The raw material passes through a long series of institutions in which it is subjected to certain mechanical and, mainly, chemical processing, and then, through innumerable side-streets, it is brought into the depot of the body. Aside from this basic series of institutions, along which the raw material moves, there is a series of lateral chemical manufactories, which prepare certain reagents for the appropriate processing of the raw material.
Speech to the Society of Russian Physicians (Dec 1874). as translated in Daniel P. Todes, Pavlov’s Physiology Factory: Experiment, Interpretation, Laboratory Enterprise (2002), 155.
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The distinction is, that the science or knowledge of the particular subject-matter furnishes the evidence, while logic furnishes the principles and rules of the estimation of evidence.
In A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive: Being a Connected View of the Principles of Evidence, and the Methods of Scientific Investigation (1843), Vol. 1, 11.
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The Excellence of Modern Geometry is in nothing more evident, than in those full and adequate Solutions it gives to Problems; representing all possible Cases in one view, and in one general Theorem many times comprehending whole Sciences; which deduced at length into Propositions, and demonstrated after the manner of the Ancients, might well become the subjects of large Treatises: For whatsoever Theorem solves the most complicated Problem of the kind, does with a due Reduction reach all the subordinate Cases.
In 'An Instance of the Excellence of Modern Algebra, etc', Philosophical Transactions, 1694, 960.
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The fading of ideals is sad evidence of the defeat of human endeavour. In the schools of antiquity philosophers aspired to impart wisdom, in modern colleges our humbler aim is to teach subjects
Opening lines of 'The Rhythmic Claims of Freedom and Discipline', The Aims of Education: & Other Essays (1917), 45.
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The flights of the imagination which occur to the pure mathematician are in general so much better described in his formulas than in words, that it is not remarkable to find the subject treated by outsiders as something essentially cold and uninteresting— … the only successful attempt to invest mathematical reasoning with a halo of glory—that made in this section by Prof. Sylvester—is known to a comparative few, …
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science (1871), Nature Vol. 4, 271,
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The Frog—that arch-martyr to science—affords the most convenient subject.
Carl Wedl
In Rudiments of Pathological Histology (1855), trans. and ed. by George Busk, 15.
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The functional validity of a working hypothesis is not a priori certain, because often it is initially based on intuition. However, logical deductions from such a hypothesis provide expectations (so-called prognoses) as to the circumstances under which certain phenomena will appear in nature. Such a postulate or working hypothesis can then be substantiated by additional observations ... The author calls such expectations and additional observations the prognosis-diagnosis method of research. Prognosis in science may be termed the prediction of the future finding of corroborative evidence of certain features or phenomena (diagnostic facts). This method of scientific research builds up and extends the relations between the subject and the object by means of a circuit of inductions and deductions.
In 'The Scientific Character of Geology', The Journal of Geology (Jul 1961), 69, No. 4, 454-5.
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The game of chess has always fascinated mathematicians, and there is reason to suppose that the possession of great powers of playing that game is in many features very much like the possession of great mathematical ability. There are the different pieces to learn, the pawns, the knights, the bishops, the castles, and the queen and king. The board possesses certain possible combinations of squares, as in rows, diagonals, etc. The pieces are subject to certain rules by which their motions are governed, and there are other rules governing the players. … One has only to increase the number of pieces, to enlarge the field of the board, and to produce new rules which are to govern either the pieces or the player, to have a pretty good idea of what mathematics consists.
In Book review, 'What is Mathematics?', Bulletin American Mathematical Society (May 1912), 18, 386-387.
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The great art consists in devising décisive experiments, leaving no place to the imagination of the observer. Imagination is needed to give wings to thought at the beginning of experimental investigations on any given subject. When, however, the time has come to conclude, and to interpret the facts derived from observations, imagination must submit to the factual results of the experiments.
Speech (8 Jul 1876), to the French Academy of Medicine. As translated in René J. Dubos, Louis Pasteur, Free Lance of Science (1950, 1986), 376. Date of speech identified in Maurice B. Strauss, Familiar Medical Quotations (1968), 502.
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The great difference between science and technology is a difference of initial attitude. The scientific man follows his method whithersoever it may take him. He seeks acquaintance with his subject­matter, and he does not at all care about what he shall find, what shall be the content of his knowledge when acquaintance-with is transformed into knowledge-about. The technologist moves in another universe; he seeks the attainment of some determinate end, which is his sole and obsessing care; and he therefore takes no heed of anything that he cannot put to use as means toward that end.
Systematic Psychology: Prolegomena (1929), 66.
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The Greeks made Space the subject-matter of a science of supreme simplicity and certainty. Out of it grew, in the mind of classical antiquity, the idea of pure science. Geometry became one of the most powerful expressions of that sovereignty of the intellect that inspired the thought of those times. At a later epoch, when the intellectual despotism of the Church, which had been maintained through the Middle Ages, had crumbled, and a wave of scepticism threatened to sweep away all that had seemed most fixed, those who believed in Truth clung to Geometry as to a rock, and it was the highest ideal of every scientist to carry on his science “more geometrico.”
In Space,Time, Matter, translated by Henry Leopold Brose (1952), 1.
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The idea of making a fault a subject of study and not an object to be merely determined has been the most important step in the course of my methods of observation. If I have obtained some new results it is to this that I owe it.
'Notice sur les Travaux Scientifiques de Marcel Bertrand' (1894). In Geological Society of London, The Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London (May 1908), 64, li.
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The idea that aptitude for mathematics is rarer than aptitude for other subjects is merely an illusion which is caused by belated or neglected beginners.
In 'Umriss pädagogischer Vorlesungen', Werke [Kehrbach] (1902), Bd. 10, 101. As quoted, cited and translated in Robert Édouard Moritz, Memorabilia Mathematica; Or, The Philomath’s Quotation-Book (1914), 74.
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The ideas which these sciences, Geometry, Theoretical Arithmetic and Algebra involve extend to all objects and changes which we observe in the external world; and hence the consideration of mathematical relations forms a large portion of many of the sciences which treat of the phenomena and laws of external nature, as Astronomy, Optics, and Mechanics. Such sciences are hence often termed Mixed Mathematics, the relations of space and number being, in these branches of knowledge, combined with principles collected from special observation; while Geometry, Algebra, and the like subjects, which involve no result of experience, are called Pure Mathematics.
In The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1868), Part 1, Bk. 2, chap. 1, sect. 4.
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The importance of a result is largely relative, is judged differently by different men, and changes with the times and circumstances. It has often happened that great importance has been attached to a problem merely on account of the difficulties which it presented; and indeed if for its solution it has been necessary to invent new methods, noteworthy artifices, etc., the science has gained more perhaps through these than through the final result. In general we may call important all investigations relating to things which in themselves are important; all those which have a large degree of generality, or which unite under a single point of view subjects apparently distinct, simplifying and elucidating them; all those which lead to results that promise to be the source of numerous consequences; etc.
From 'On Some Recent Tendencies in Geometric Investigations', Rivista di Matematica (1891), 44. In Bulletin American Mathematical Society (1904), 444.
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The invention of the differential calculus marks a crisis in the history of mathematics. The progress of science is divided between periods characterized by a slow accumulation of ideas and periods, when, owing to the new material for thought thus patiently collected, some genius by the invention of a new method or a new point of view, suddenly transforms the whole subject on to a higher level.
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 217. Whitehead continued by quoting the poet, Percy Shelley, who compared the slow accumulation of thoughts leading to an avalanche following the laying down of a great truth. See the poetic quote beginning, “The sun-awakened avalanche…” on the Percy Shelley Quotations page.
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The Johns Hopkins University certifies that John Wentworth Doe does not know anything but Biochemistry. Please pay no attention to any pronouncements he may make on any other subject, particularly when he joins with others of his kind to save the world from something or other. However, he worked hard for this degree and is potentially a most valuable citizen. Please treat him kindly.
[An imaginary academic diploma reworded to give a more realistic view of the value of the training of scientists.]
'Our Splintered Learning and the Nature of Scientists', Science (15 Apr 1955), 121, 516.
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The logic of the subject [algebra], which, both educationally and scientifically speaking, is the most important part of it, is wholly neglected. The whole training consists in example grinding. What should have been merely the help to attain the end has become the end itself. The result is that algebra, as we teach it, is neither an art nor a science, but an ill-digested farrago of rules, whose object is the solution of examination problems. … The result, so far as problems worked in examinations go, is, after all, very miserable, as the reiterated complaints of examiners show; the effect on the examinee is a well-known enervation of mind, an almost incurable superficiality, which might be called Problematic Paralysis—a disease which unfits a man to follow an argument extending beyond the length of a printed octavo page.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science (1885), Nature, 32, 447-448.
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The mathematic, then, is an art. As such it has its styles and style periods. It is not, as the layman and the philosopher (who is in this matter a layman too) imagine, substantially unalterable, but subject like every art to unnoticed changes form epoch to epoch. The development of the great arts ought never to be treated without an (assuredly not unprofitable) side-glance at contemporary mathematics.
In Oswald Spengler and Charles Francis Atkinson (trans.), The Decline of the West (1926), 62.
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The more a science advances, the more will it be possible to understand immediately results which formerly could be demonstrated only by means of lengthy intermediate considerations: a mathematical subject cannot be considered as finally completed until this end has been attained.
In Formensystem binärer Formen (1875), 2.
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The more the subject is examined the more complex must we suppose the constitution of matter in order to explain the remarkable effects observed.
In Radio-activity (1905), 1.
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The mythology of science asserts that with many different scientists all asking their own questions and evaluating the answers independently, whatever personal bias creeps into their individual answers is cancelled out when the large picture is put together. This might conceivably be so if scientists were women and men from all sorts of different cultural and social backgrounds who came to science with very different ideologies and interests. But since, in fact, they have been predominantly university-trained white males from privileged social backgrounds, the bias has been narrow and the product often reveals more about the investigator than about the subject being researched.
'Have Only Men Evolved?' Women Look at Biology Looking At Women, eds. Ruth Hubbard, Mary Sue Henifin, and Barbara Fried (1979).
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The objects which astronomy discloses afford subjects of sublime contemplation, and tend to elevate the soul above vicious passions and groveling pursuits.
In Elijah H. Burritt, 'Introduction', The Geography of the Heavens (1844), 16.
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The observing mind is not a physical system, it cannot interact with any physical system. And it might be better to reserve the term ‘subject ‘ for the observing mind ... For the subject, if anything, is the thing that senses and thinks. Sensations and thoughts do not belong to the ‘world of energy.’
…...
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The opinion of Bacon on this subject [geometry] was diametrically opposed to that of the ancient philosophers. He valued geometry chiefly, if not solely, on account of those uses, which to Plato appeared so base. And it is remarkable that the longer Bacon lived the stronger this feeling became. When in 1605 he wrote the two books on the Advancement of Learning, he dwelt on the advantages which mankind derived from mixed mathematics; but he at the same time admitted that the beneficial effect produced by mathematical study on the intellect, though a collateral advantage, was “no less worthy than that which was principal and intended.” But it is evident that his views underwent a change. When near twenty years later, he published the De Augmentis, which is the Treatise on the Advancement of Learning, greatly expanded and carefully corrected, he made important alterations in the part which related to mathematics. He condemned with severity the pretensions of the mathematicians, “delidas et faslum mathematicorum.” Assuming the well-being of the human race to be the end of knowledge, he pronounced that mathematical science could claim no higher rank than that of an appendage or an auxiliary to other sciences. Mathematical science, he says, is the handmaid of natural philosophy; she ought to demean herself as such; and he declares that he cannot conceive by what ill chance it has happened that she presumes to claim precedence over her mistress.
In 'Lord Bacon', Edinburgh Review (Jul 1837). Collected in Critical and Miscellaneous Essays: Contributed to the Edinburgh Review (1857), Vol. 1, 395.
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The ordinary man (or woman) thinks he knows what time is but cannot say. The learned man, physicist or philosopher, is not sure he knows but is ready to write volumes on the subject of his speculation and ignorance.
In Revolution in Time: Clocks and the Making of the Modern World (1983), 1.
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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.
In A Concrete Approach to Abstract Algebra (1959), 1-2.
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The propositions of mathematics have, therefore, the same unquestionable certainty which is typical of such propositions as “All bachelors are unmarried,” but they also share the complete lack of empirical content which is associated with that certainty: The propositions of mathematics are devoid of all factual content; they convey no information whatever on any empirical subject matter.
From 'On the Nature of Mathematical Truth', collected in Carl Hempel and James H. Fetzer (ed.), The Philosophy of Carl G. Hempel: Studies in Science, Explanation, and Rationality (2001), Chap. 1, 13. Also Carl Hempel, 'On the Nature of Mathematical Truth', collected in J.R. Newman (ed.), The World of Mathematics (1956), Vol. 3, 1631.
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The result of teaching small parts of a large number of subjects is the passive reception of disconnected ideas, not illuminated with any spark of vitality. Let the main ideas which are introduced into a child’s education be few and important, and let them be thrown into every combination possible.
In The Organisation of Thought: Educational and Scientific (1917), 5.
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The scientist has to take 95 per cent of his subject on trust. He has to because he can't possibly do all the experiments, therefore he has to take on trust the experiments all his colleagues and predecessors have done. Whereas a mathematician doesn't have to take anything on trust. Any theorem that's proved, he doesn't believe it, really, until he goes through the proof himself, and therefore he knows his whole subject from scratch. He's absolutely 100 per cent certain of it. And that gives him an extraordinary conviction of certainty, and an arrogance that scientists don't have.
Essay, 'Private Games', in Lewis Wolpert and Alison Richards, (eds.), A Passion for Science (1988), 61.
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The sense for style … is an aesthetic sense, based on admiration for the direct attainment of a foreseen end, simply and without waste. Style in art, style in literature, style in science, style in logic, style in practical execution have fundamentally the same aesthetic qualities, namely, attainment and restraint. The love of a subject in itself and for itself, where it is not the sleepy pleasure of pacing a mental quarter-deck, is the love of style as manifested in that study. Here we are brought back to the position from which we started, the utility of education. Style, in its finest sense, is the last acquirement of the educated mind; it is also the most useful. It pervades the whole being. The administrator with a sense for style hates waste; the engineer with a sense for style economises his material; the artisan with a sense for style prefers good work. Style is the ultimate morality of the mind.
In 'The Aims of Education', The Aims of Education and Other Essays (1929), 23.
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The subject-matter of Archaeology is threefold—the Oral, the Written and the Monumental.
In Lecture to the Oxford meeting of the Archaeological Institute (18 Jun 1850), printed in 'On the Study of Achaeology', Archaeological Journal (1851), 8, 2.
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The theoretical broadening which comes from having many humanities subjects on the campus is offset by the general dopiness of the people who study these things and by the Department of Home Economics.
Letter to Robert Bacher (6 Apr 1950), as quoted in James Gleick, Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1992), 278.
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The trend of mathematics and physics towards unification provides the physicist with a powerful new method of research into the foundations of his subject. … The method is to begin by choosing that branch of mathematics which one thinks will form the basis of the new theory. One should be influenced very much in this choice by considerations of mathematical beauty. It would probably be a good thing also to give a preference to those branches of mathematics that have an interesting group of transformations underlying them, since transformations play an important role in modern physical theory, both relativity and quantum theory seeming to show that transformations are of more fundamental importance than equations.
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, 122.
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The truth is, when all is said and done, one does not teach a subject, one teaches a student how to learn it.
Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning (1991), 35. In Richard J. Cox, Managing Records as Evidence and Information (2001), 217.
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The wise man should study the acquisition of science and riches as if he were not subject to sickness and death; but to the duties of religion he should attend as if death had seized him by the hair.
In Charles Wilkins (trans.) Fables and Proverbs from the Sanskrit: being the Hitopadesa (1885), 18.
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The world is given to me only once, not one existing and one perceived. Subject and object are only one. The barrier between them cannot be said to have broken down as a result of recent experience in the physical sciences, for this barrier does not exist.
Concluding remark in Lecture, 'The Principle of Objectivation', the Tarner Lectures Delivered at Trinity College, Cambridge (Oct 1956), published in Mind and Matter (1958). Reprinted in collection What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches (1992, 2006), 127
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There are four subjects which must be taught: reading, writing and arithmetic, and the fear of God. The most difficult of these is arithmetic.
Quoted as a filler, without citation in The Record (3 Nov 1948), 40, No. 8, 2. (Student newspaper of the New York State College for Teachers.)
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There is no area in our minds reserved for superstition, such as the Greeks had in their mythology; and superstition, under cover of an abstract vocabulary, has revenged itself by invading the entire realm of thought. Our science is like a store filled with the most subtle intellectual devices for solving the most complex problems, and yet we are almost incapable of applying the elementary principles of rational thought. In every sphere, we seem to have lost the very elements of intelligence: the ideas of limit, measure, degree, proportion, relation, comparison, contingency, interdependence, interrelation of means and ends. To keep to the social level, our political universe is peopled exclusively by myths and monsters; all it contains is absolutes and abstract entities. This is illustrated by all the words of our political and social vocabulary: nation, security, capitalism, communism, fascism, order, authority, property, democracy. We never use them in phrases such as: There is democracy to the extent that… or: There is capitalism in so far as… The use of expressions like “to the extent that” is beyond our intellectual capacity. Each of these words seems to represent for us an absolute reality, unaffected by conditions, or an absolute objective, independent of methods of action, or an absolute evil; and at the same time we make all these words mean, successively or simultaneously, anything whatsoever. Our lives are lived, in actual fact, among changing, varying realities, subject to the casual play of external necessities, and modifying themselves according to specific conditions within specific limits; and yet we act and strive and sacrifice ourselves and others by reference to fixed and isolated abstractions which cannot possibly be related either to one another or to any concrete facts. In this so-called age of technicians, the only battles we know how to fight are battles against windmills.
From 'The Power of Words', collected in Siân Miles (ed.), Simone Weil: An Anthology (2000), 222-223.
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There is only one subject matter for education, and that is Life in all its manifestations. Instead of this single unity, we offer children—Algebra, from which nothing follows; Geometry, from which nothing follows; Science, from which nothing follows; History, from which nothing follows; a Couple of Languages, never mastered; and lastly, most dreary of all, Literature, represented by plays of Shakespeare, with philological notes and short analyses of plot and character to be in substance committed to memory.
In 'The Aims of Education', The Aims of Education: & Other Essays (1917), 10.
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There's nothing situate under heaven's eye
But hath his bond in earth, in sea, in sky.
The beasts, the fishes, and the winged fowls
Are their males' subjects and at their controls.
Man, more divine, the master of all these,
Lord of the wide world and wild wat'ry seas,
Indu'd with intellectual sense and souls,
Of more pre-eminence than fish and fowls,
Are masters to their females, and their lords;
Then let your will attend on their accords.
The Comedy of Errors (1594), II, i.
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Thermodynamics is a funny subject. The first time you go through it, you don’t understand it at all The second time you go through it, you think you understand it, except for one or two points. The third time you go through it, you know you don't understand it, but by that time you are so used to the subject, it doesn't bother you anymore.
Quoted, without citation, in Stanley W. Angrist and Loren G. Hepler, Order and Chaos: Laws of Energy and Entropy (1967), 215. The authors identify it as “perhaps apocryphal.” The quote is used as epigraph, dated as 1950 in Anton Z. Capri, Quips, Quotes, and Quanta: An Anecdotal History of Physics (2011), 50. The quote is introduced as “When asked why he did not write on that field he replied somewhat as follows,” by Keith J. Laidler in Physical Chemistry with Biological Applications (1978), 145.
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These sciences, Geometry, Theoretical Arithmetic and Algebra, have no principles besides definitions and axioms, and no process of proof but deduction; this process, however, assuming a most remarkable character; and exhibiting a combination of simplicity and complexity, of rigour and generality, quite unparalleled in other subjects.
In The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1858), Part 1, Bk. 2, chap. 1, sect. 2.
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These specimens, which I could easily multiply, may suffice to justify a profound distrust of Auguste Comte, wherever he may venture to speak as a mathematician. But his vast general ability, and that personal intimacy with the great Fourier, which I most willingly take his own word for having enjoyed, must always give an interest to his views on any subject of pure or applied mathematics.
In R. Graves, Life of W. R. Hamilton (1882-89), Vol. 3, 475.
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They who clamor loudest for freedom are often the ones least likely to be happy in a free society. The frustrated, oppressed by their shortcomings, blame their failure on existing restraints. Actually, their innermost desire is for an end to the “free for all.” They want to eliminate free competition and the ruthless testing to which the individual is continually subjected in a free society.
In The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951), 32.
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Things of all kinds are subject to a universal law which may be called the law of large numbers. It consists in the fact that, if one observes very considerable numbers of events of the same nature, dependent on constant causes and causes which vary irregularly, sometimes in one direction, sometimes in the other, it is to say without their variation being progressive in any definite direction, one shall find, between these numbers, relations which are almost constant.
Poisson’s Law of Large Numbers (16 Nov 1837), in Recherches sur la Probabilités (1837), 7. English version by Webmaster using Google Translate, from the original French, “Les choses de toutes natures sont soumises à une loi universelle qu’on) peut appeler la loi des grands nombres. Elle consiste en ce que, si l’on observe des nombres très considérables d’événements d’une même nature, dépendants de causes constantes et de causes qui varient irrégulièrement, tantôt dans un sens, tantôt daus l’autre, c’est-à-dire sans que leur variation soit progressive dans aucun sens déterminé, on trouvera, entre ces nombres, des rapports a très peu près constants.”
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Those who nod sagely and quote the tragedy of the commons in relation to environmental problems from pollution of the atmosphere to poaching of national parks tend to forget that Garrett Hardin revised his conclusions many times…. He recognized, most importantly, that anarchy did not prevail on the common pastures of medieval England in the way he had described…. “A managed commons, though it may have other defects, is not automatically subject to the tragic fate of the unmanaged commons,” wrote Hardin…. At sea, where a common exists in most waters… None of Hardin’s requirements for a successfully managed common is fulfilled by high-seas fishery regimes.
In The End of the Line: How Overfishing is Changing the World and what We Eat (2004), 153-155.
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To emphasize this opinion that mathematicians would be unwise to accept practical issues as the sole guide or the chief guide in the current of their investigations, ... let me take one more instance, by choosing a subject in which the purely mathematical interest is deemed supreme, the theory of functions of a complex variable. That at least is a theory in pure mathematics, initiated in that region, and developed in that region; it is built up in scores of papers, and its plan certainly has not been, and is not now, dominated or guided by considerations of applicability to natural phenomena. Yet what has turned out to be its relation to practical issues? The investigations of Lagrange and others upon the construction of maps appear as a portion of the general property of conformal representation; which is merely the general geometrical method of regarding functional relations in that theory. Again, the interesting and important investigations upon discontinuous two-dimensional fluid motion in hydrodynamics, made in the last twenty years, can all be, and now are all, I believe, deduced from similar considerations by interpreting functional relations between complex variables. In the dynamics of a rotating heavy body, the only substantial extension of our knowledge since the time of Lagrange has accrued from associating the general properties of functions with the discussion of the equations of motion. Further, under the title of conjugate functions, the theory has been applied to various questions in electrostatics, particularly in connection with condensers and electrometers. And, lastly, in the domain of physical astronomy, some of the most conspicuous advances made in the last few years have been achieved by introducing into the discussion the ideas, the principles, the methods, and the results of the theory of functions. … the refined and extremely difficult work of Poincare and others in physical astronomy has been possible only by the use of the most elaborate developments of some purely mathematical subjects, developments which were made without a thought of such applications.
In Presidential Address British Association for the Advancement of Science, Section A, (1897), Nature, 56, 377.
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To speak of this subject you must... explain the nature of the resistance of the air, in the second the anatomy of the bird and its wings, in the third the method of working the wings in their various movements, in the fourth the power of the wings and the tail when the wings are not being moved and when the wind is favorable to serve as guide in various movements.
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To teach effectively a teacher must develop a feeling for his subject; he cannot make his students sense its vitality if he does not sense it himself. He cannot share his enthusiasm when he has no enthusiasm to share. How he makes his point may be as important as the point he makes; he must personally feel it to be important.
Mathematical Methods in Science (1963, 1977), 1.
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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.
In 'The Extent of Mathematics', Prelude to Mathematics (1955), 11.
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We are concerned to understand the motivation for the development of pure mathematics, and it will not do simply to point to aesthetic qualities in the subject and leave it at that. It must be remembered that there is far more excitement to be had from creating something than from appreciating it after it has been created. Let there be no mistake about it, the fact that the mathematician is bound down by the rules of logic can no more prevent him from being creative than the properties of paint can prevent the artist. … We must remember that the mathematician not only finds the solutions to his problems, he creates the problems themselves.
In A Signpost to Mathematics (1951), 19. As quoted and cited in William L. Schaaf, 'Memorabilia Mathematica', The Mathematics Teacher (Mar 1957), 50, No. 3, 230. Note that this paper incorrectly attributes “A.H. Head”.
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We can trace the development of a nervous system, and correlate with it the parallel phenomena of sensation and thought. We see with undoubting certainty that they go hand in hand. But we try to soar in a vacuum the moment we seek to comprehend the connexion between them … Man the object is separated by an impassable gulf from man the subject.
In 'Address Delivered Before The British Association Assembled at Belfast' (19 Aug 1874), in Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 2, 194-195.
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We may as well cut out group theory. That is a subject that will never be of any use in physics.
Discussing mathematics curriculum reform at Princeton University (1910), as quoted in Abraham P. Hillman, Gerald L. Alexanderson, Abstract Algebra: A First Undergraduate Course (1994), 94.
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We must make practice in thinking, or, in other words, the strengthening of reasoning power, the constant object of all teaching from infancy to adult age, no matter what may be the subject of instruction. … Effective training of the reasoning powers cannot be secured simply by choosing this subject or that for study. The method of study and the aim in studying are the all-important things.
From 'Wherein Popular Education has Failed' Forum (Dec 1892), collected in American Contributions to Civilization: And Other Essays and Addresses (1897), 229 & 231.
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We pass with admiration along the great series of mathematicians, by whom the science of theoretical mechanics has been cultivated, from the time of Newton to our own. There is no group of men of science whose fame is higher or brighter. The great discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, had fixed all eyes on those portions of human knowledge on which their successors employed their labors. The certainty belonging to this line of speculation seemed to elevate mathematicians above the students of other subjects; and the beauty of mathematical relations and the subtlety of intellect which may be shown in dealing with them, were fitted to win unbounded applause. The successors of Newton and the Bernoullis, as Euler, Clairaut, D’Alembert, Lagrange, Laplace, not to introduce living names, have been some of the most remarkable men of talent which the world has seen.
In History of the Inductive Sciences, Vol. 1, Bk. 4, chap. 6, sect. 6.
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What a chimera ... is man ! What a novelty, what a monster, what a chaos, what a subject of contradiction, what a prodigy! A judge of all things, feeble worm of the earth, depository of the truth, cloacae of uncertainty and error, the glory and the shame of the universe!
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What a master a man would be in his own subject if he taught nothing useless!
In The Maxims and Reflections of Goethe (1906), 196.
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What an amateur is, is a lover of a subject. I’m a lover of facts. The fact is the savior, as long as you don’t jam it into some preconceived pattern.
From interview, Carol Krucoff, 'The 6 O’Clock Scholar: Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin And His Love Affair With Books', The Washington Post (29 Jan 1984), K8.
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What is this subject, which may be called indifferently either mathematics or logic? Is there any way in which we can define it? Certain characteristics of the subject are clear. To begin with, we do not, in this subject, deal with particular things or particular properties: we deal formally with what can be said about any thing or any property. We are prepared to say that one and one are two, but not that Socrates and Plato are two, because, in our capacity of logicians or pure mathematicians, we have never heard of Socrates or Plato. A world in which there were no such individuals would still be a world in which one and one are two. It is not open to us, as pure mathematicians or logicians, to mention anything at all, because, if we do so we introduce something irrelevant and not formal.
In Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (1920), 196-197.
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When Cayley had reached his most advanced generalizations he proceeded to establish them directly by some method or other, though he seldom gave the clue by which they had first been obtained: a proceeding which does not tend to make his papers easy reading. …
His literary style is direct, simple and clear. His legal training had an influence, not merely upon his mode of arrangement but also upon his expression; the result is that his papers are severe and present a curious contrast to the luxuriant enthusiasm which pervades so many of Sylvester’s papers. He used to prepare his work for publication as soon as he carried his investigations in any subject far enough for his immediate purpose. … A paper once written out was promptly sent for publication; this practice he maintained throughout life. … The consequence is that he has left few arrears of unfinished or unpublished papers; his work has been given by himself to the world.
In Proceedings of London Royal Society (1895), 58, 23-24.
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When you are identifying science of the motion of water, remember to include under each subject its application and use, so that the science will be useful.
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When you have made a thorough and reasonably long effort, to understand a thing, and still feel puzzled by it, stop, you will only hurt yourself by going on. Put it aside till the next morning; and if then you can’t make it out, and have no one to explain it to you, put it aside entirely, and go back to that part of the subject which you do understand.
From letter to Edith Rix with hints for studying (about Mar 1885), in Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll (1898), 240.
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While the vaccine discovery was progressive, the joy I felt at the prospect before me of being the instrument destined to take away from the world one of its greatest calamities [smallpox], blended with the fond hope of enjoying independence and domestic peace and happiness, was often so excessive that, in pursuing my favourite subject among the meadows, I have sometimes found myself in a kind of reverie.
John Baron, The Life of Dr. Jenner (1827), 140.
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Why, then, are we surprised that comets, such a rare spectacle in the universe, are not known, when their return is at vast intervals?. … The time will come when diligent research over long periods will bring to light things which now lie hidden. A single lifetime, even though entirely devoted to the sky, would not be enough for the investigation of so vast a subject … And so this knowledge will be unfolded only through long successive ages. There will come a time when our descendants will be amazed that we did not know things that are so plain to them …. Many discoveries are reserved for ages still to come, when memory of us will have been effaced. Our universe is a sorry little affair unless it has in it something for every age to investigate … Nature does not reveal her mysteries once and for all. Someday there will be a man who will show in what regions comets have their orbit, why they travel so remote from other celestial bodies, how large they are and what sort they are.
Natural Questions, Book 7. As translated by Thomas H. Corcoran in Seneca in Ten Volumes: Naturales Quaestiones II (1972), 279 and 293.
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You can't really discover the most interesting conflicts and problems in a subject until you've tried to write about them. At that point, one discovers discontinuities in the data, perhaps, or in one's own thinking; then the act of writing forces you to work harder to resolve these contradictions.
From Robert S. Grumet, 'An Interview with Anthony F. C. Wallace', Ethnohistory (Winter 1998), 45, No. 1, 109.
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You cannot do without one specialty. You must have some base-line to measure the work and attainments of others. For a general view of the subject, study the history of the sciences. Broad knowledge of all Nature has been the possession of no naturalist except Humboldt, and general relations constituted his specialty.
Lecture at a teaching laboratory on Penikese Island, Buzzard's Bay. Quoted from the lecture notes by David Starr Jordan, Science Sketches (1911), 146.
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[Before college] I was almost more interested in literature and history than in the exact sciences; I was equally good in all subjects including the classical languages.
As quoted in Paul Forman and Armin Hermann, 'Sommerfeld, Arnold (Johannes Wilhelm)', Biography in Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1975), Vol. 12, 526. Cited from 'Autobiographische Skizze', Gesammelte Schriften, Vol 4, 673–682.
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[In junior high school] I liked math—that was my favorite subject—and I was very interested in astronomy and in physical science.
Interview conducted on Scholastic website (20 Nov 1998).
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[Mathematics] is that [subject] which knows nothing of observation, nothing of experiment, nothing of induction, nothing of causation.
In 'The Scientific Aspects of Positivism', Fortnightly Review (1898) in Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews, (1872), 169.
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[The mathematician's] subject is the most curious of all—there is none in which truth plays such odd pranks. It has the most elaborate and the most fascinating technique, and gives unrivaled openings for the display of sheer professional skill.
In A Mathematician’s Apology (1940, 1967), 80.
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~~[Attributed, authorship undocumented]~~ Mathematical demonstrations are a logic of as much or more use, than that commonly learned at schools, serving to a just formation of the mind, enlarging its capacity, and strengthening it so as to render the same capable of exact reasoning, and discerning truth from falsehood in all occurrences, even in subjects not mathematical. For which reason it is said, the Egyptians, Persians, and Lacedaemonians seldom elected any new kings, but such as had some knowledge in the mathematics, imagining those, who had not, men of imperfect judgments, and unfit to rule and govern.
From an article which appeared as 'The Usefulness of Mathematics', Pennsylvania Gazette (30 Oct 1735), No. 360. Collected, despite being without clear evidence of Franklin’s authorship, in The Works of Benjamin Franklin (1809), Vol. 4, 377. Evidence of actual authorship by Ben Franklin for the newspaper article has not been ascertained, and scholars doubt it. See Franklin documents at the website founders.archives.gov. The quote is included here to attach this caution.
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… what is physical is subject to the laws of mathematics, and what is spiritual to the laws of God, and the laws of mathematics are but the expression of the thoughts of God.
In 'The Uses of Mathesis', Bibliotheca Sacra, 32, 523.
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“Exobiology” … that peculiar science has no known subject matter.
In The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life and of Its Significance for Man (Rev. Ed., 1967), 10, footnote.
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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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