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Today in Science History - Quickie Quiz
Who said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
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Thumbnail of John von Neumann (source)
John von Neumann
(28 Dec 1903 - 8 Feb 1957)

Hungarian-American mathematician who made significant contributions in diverse fields, including quantum physics, logic, meteorology, game theory and computer science.


John von Neumann - In mathematics you don't understand things.

Illustrated Quote - Large (800 x 600 px)

“In mathematics you don't understand things. You just get used to them.”
— John von Neumann
Attributed.

More John von Neumann quotes on science >>

This quote is regarded as attributed because it was passed along from one person to another, and likely does not give the original verbatim version. The story goes like this:

Neumann, to a physicist seeking help with a difficult problem: Simple. This can be solved by using the method of characteristics.

Physicist: I'm afraid I don't understand the method of characteristics.

Neumann: In mathematics you don't understand things. You just get used to them.

This version is as related by Dr. Felix Smith (Head of Molecular Physics, Stanford Research Institute) to author Gary Zukav, who quoted it in The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics. The physicist (a friend of Dr. Smith) worked at Los Alamos after WW II. It should be noted that although the author uses quotation marks around the spoken remarks, that they represent the author's memory of Dr. Smith's recollection, who heard it from the physicist. Therefore the fourth-hand wording is very likely not verbatim. Webmaster finds Zukav's book seems to be the only source for this quote.

Attributed, as stated in Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics (1979, 2001), 208, footnote. (source)


See also:
  • Science Quotes by John von Neumann.
  • 28 Dec - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Neumann's birth.
  • John von Neumann - context of quote In mathematics you don't understand things. - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • John von Neumann: The Scientific Genius Who Pioneered..., by Norman MacRae. - book suggestion.

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: 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) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
Quotations by: • Albert Einstein • Isaac Newton • Lord Kelvin • Charles Darwin • Srinivasa Ramanujan • Carl Sagan • Florence Nightingale • Thomas Edison • Aristotle • Marie Curie • Benjamin Franklin • Winston Churchill • Galileo Galilei • Sigmund Freud • Robert Bunsen • Louis Pasteur • Theodore Roosevelt • Abraham Lincoln • Ronald Reagan • Leonardo DaVinci • Michio Kaku • Karl Popper • Johann Goethe • Robert Oppenheimer • Charles Kettering  ... (more people)

Quotations about: • Atomic  Bomb • Biology • Chemistry • Deforestation • Engineering • Anatomy • Astronomy • Bacteria • Biochemistry • Botany • Conservation • Dinosaur • Environment • Fractal • Genetics • Geology • History of Science • Invention • Jupiter • Knowledge • Love • Mathematics • Measurement • Medicine • Natural Resource • Organic Chemistry • Physics • Physician • Quantum Theory • Research • Science and Art • Teacher • Technology • Universe • Volcano • Virus • Wind Power • Women Scientists • X-Rays • Youth • Zoology  ... (more topics)


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Sophie Germain
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Carl Gauss
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- 90 -
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Charles Babbage
Ibn Khaldun
Euclid
Ralph Emerson
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Andre Ampere
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- 80 -
John Locke
Bronislaw Malinowski
Bible
Thomas Huxley
Alessandro Volta
Erwin Schrodinger
Wilhelm Roentgen
Louis Pasteur
Bertrand Russell
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- 70 -
Samuel Morse
John Wheeler
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Robert Fulton
Pierre Laplace
Humphry Davy
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- 60 -
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Martin Fischer
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Avicenna
James Watson
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- 50 -
Stephen Hawking
Niels Bohr
Nikola Tesla
Rachel Carson
Max Planck
Henry Adams
Richard Dawkins
Werner Heisenberg
Alfred Wegener
John Dalton
- 40 -
Pierre Fermat
Edward Wilson
Johannes Kepler
Gustave Eiffel
Giordano Bruno
JJ Thomson
Thomas Kuhn
Leonardo DaVinci
Archimedes
David Hume
- 30 -
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Richard Feynman
James Hutton
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Emile Durkheim
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Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
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- 20 -
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Marie Curie
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- 10 -
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Charles Darwin
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