Verbal Quotes (9 quotes)
A painter makes patterns with shapes and colours, a poet with words. A painting may embody an “idea,” but the idea is usually commonplace and unimportant. In poetry, ideas count for a good deal more; but, as Housman insisted, the importance of ideas in poetry is habitually exaggerated. … The poverty of ideas seems hardly to affect the beauty of the verbal pattern. A mathematician, on the other hand, has no material to work with but ideas, and so his patterns are likely to last longer, since ideas wear less with time than words.
Another advantage of a mathematical statement is that it is so definite that it might be definitely wrong; and if it is found to be wrong, there is a plenteous choice of amendments ready in the mathematicians’ stock of formulae. Some verbal statements have not this merit; they are so vague that they could hardly be wrong, and are correspondingly useless.
No video, no photographs, no verbal descriptions, no lectures can provide the enchantment that a few minutes out-of-doors can: watch a spider construct a web; observe a caterpillar systematically ravaging the edge of a leaf; close your eyes, cup your hands behind your ears, and listen to aspen leaves rustle or a stream muse about its pools and eddies. Nothing can replace plucking a cluster of pine needles and rolling them in your fingers to feel how they’re put together, or discovering that “sedges have edges and grasses are round,” The firsthand, right-and-left-brain experience of being in the out-of-doors involves all the senses including some we’ve forgotten about, like smelling water a mile away. No teacher, no student, can help but sense and absorb the larger ecological rhythms at work here, and the intertwining of intricate, varied and complex strands that characterize a rich, healthy natural world.
The mathematical framework of quantum theory has passed countless successful tests and is now universally accepted as a consistent and accurate description of all atomic phenomena. The verbal interpretation, on the other hand, i.e. the metaphysics of quantum physics, is on far less solid ground. In fact, in more than forty years physicists have not been able to provide a clear metaphysical model.
The prominent reason why a mathematician can be judged by none but mathematicians, is that he uses a peculiar language. The language of mathesis is special and untranslatable. In its simplest forms it can be translated, as, for instance, we say a right angle to mean a square corner. But you go a little higher in the science of mathematics, and it is impossible to dispense with a peculiar language. It would defy all the power of Mercury himself to explain to a person ignorant of the science what is meant by the single phrase “functional exponent.” How much more impossible, if we may say so, would it be to explain a whole treatise like Hamilton’s Quaternions, in such a wise as to make it possible to judge of its value! But to one who has learned this language, it is the most precise and clear of all modes of expression. It discloses the thought exactly as conceived by the writer, with more or less beauty of form, but never with obscurity. It may be prolix, as it often is among French writers; may delight in mere verbal metamorphoses, as in the Cambridge University of England; or adopt the briefest and clearest forms, as under the pens of the geometers of our Cambridge; but it always reveals to us precisely the writer’s thought.
The same applies to the concept of force as does to any other physical concept: Verbal definitions are meaningless; real definitions are given through a measuring process.
These thoughts did not come in any verbal formulation. I rarely think in words at all. A thought comes, and I may try to express it in words afterward.
Words change their meanings, just as organism s evolve. We would impose an enormous burden on our economy if we insisted on payment in cattle every time we identified a bonus as a pecuniary advantage (from the Latin pecus, or cattle, a verbal fossil from a former commercial reality).
[Perfecting a script is] verbal carpentry. … That's what my speciality is, really, and always has been. If you can use four words instead of five that’s good.