Our Daily Bleg: What’s Been Said About Math?

Our resident quote bleggar Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, is back with another request. If you have a bleg of your own — it needn’t have anything to do with quotations — send it along here.

Recently, after a Wall Street Journal article named The Yale Book of Quotations as the second-most-essential reference book for home use, I initiated a discussion about the continuing vitality of print reference books.

Now a newly published volume provides me with a splendid example of how there is still a place for print reference in the world: the Princeton Companion to Mathematics, edited by Fields Medal winner Timothy Gowers and published by Princeton University Press. Because of the close link between economics and mathematics, many readers of the Freakonomics blog may find this book of interest.

The Princeton Companion to Mathematics combines a number of elements that may not be present in Wikipedia or other online sources: entries written by some of the world’s leading mathematicians, prose of real literary distinction, and beautiful design and production. All in all, a must-have reference in mathematical literacy.

For this week’s bleg, I invite suggestions of famous or compelling mathematical quotations.


"Mathematics is still after all a human activity, not a computer programme, and if our accumulated experience is to be passed on from generation to generation we must continually strive to simplify and unify." - Michael Atiyah,
the concluding remark of his presidential address to the London Mathematical Society (Bull. London Math. Soc., 10, 1978, 69-76), called “The Unity of Mathematics.”

Wang Shik-ryum

@ # 71: "the square root of sixty-nine is 8 {ate) something."


"women are easy, MATH is hard"


"Math sucks" - Jimmy Buffet


“He is unworthy of the name of man who is ignorant of the fact that a diagonal of a square is incommensurable with its side.”
Plato (429-347 BC)


"Think of how stupid the average person is.
Well, half of them are worse than that."

Bob, (from The Church of the Subgenius)


As we are putting references to xkcd, the most relevant is obviously
this one.

I just quoted the same over at Female Science Professor, but I can't resist:

"Philosophy is written in this grand book, the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and read the letters in which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it."

This is Galileo Galilei (as translated in the Encyclopedia Britannica), officially announcing the birth of science as we know it. With mathematics as its foundational language.

@36: you're almost right, but Hilbert was referring to Emmy Noether, not Sonia Kowalewski.


Rebecca Tumicki

Life is like calculus, it is all about change.

From Calculus for Dummies (I think).


Psychology is really biology.
Biology is really chemistry.
Chemistry is really physics.
Physics is really math.


"What is the reward of mathematicians? The grudging admiration of a few friends." -Fritz John, reputedly.

Bruce D

The opportunity cost of reading this blog and comments on it is well worth it, otherwise I would've never known about the existence of this book and/or would not have had the opportunity to learn new quotes about math if only a few. And I leave with this mathematical quote: " Nothing from nothing leaves Nothing.:

Mark L

"Math, my dear boy, is nothing more than the lesbian sister of biology."

-Peter Griffin, from "Family Guy"


They say that psychology is really biology, biology is really chemistry, chemistry is really physics, physics is really math, and math is really hard.


Another set of quotes I like (from http://www.math.purdue.edu/~eremenko/cit3.html):

Profound study of nature is the most fertile source of mathematical discoveries.
(J. Fourier, Analytic theory of heat, 1830)

It is true that Mr. Fourier had the opinion that the principal purpose of mathematics was the benefit of the society and the explanation of phenomena of nature; but a philosopher like he should know that the sole purpose of science is the honor of the human mind, and under this title, a question about numbers is as valuable as a question about the system of the world.
(C. G. Jacobi, Letter to Le Gendre, 1830)

In practice this is of course not at all important, because it is negligible for the largest triangle on earth that can be measured; however the dignity of science requires that we understand clearly the nature of this inequality...
(Gauss, in a letter to a friend on a correction of .001" in the measurement of triangles on the earth surface).

Degeneration of mathematics begins with the ideas of Riemann, Dedekind and Cantor which progressively repressed the reliable genius of Euler, Lagrange and Gauss.
(C. L. Siegel, Letter to H. Weyl, 1959)

All mathematics is divided into three parts: cryptography (paid for by CIA, KGB and the like), hydrodynamics (supported by manufacturers of atomic submarines) and celestial mechanics (financed by military and other institutions dealing with missiles, such as NASA).
(V. Arnold, in: Mathematics: Frontiers and Perspectives, AMS 2000)

You cannot have both. I mean a fish having a meeting one billion years ago under the water and saying: "We are fish, we have all this power, now it is time to conquer the land". But you cannot conquer the land while remaining fish. You can't go to the real world remaining mathematicians; that's absurd. Either you study real problems in the real world - it's a remarkable intellectual challenge, or you remain a mathematician.
(M. Gromov, Dead Sea discussions, in: GAFA 2000. Visions in Mathematics)



I think the proper quote is:
2+2=5, for large values of 2.
(is that a joke?)


Let me think:

What is infinity x infinity?

Chuck Norris?

-only Chuck Norris can divide by zero!
-e^r67678 * ln(56) + love = math
I personally believe that the opportunity cost, or opportunity lost, of creating this blog about math is people not reading as much about the current financial crisis. I truly believe that there should be more posts about the issues with AIG, Lehman Brothers, and what people think about them. Can I create a post?!


"It [mathematical knowledge] is all of the same nature as the 'great truth' that there are three feet in a yard."

- Bertrand Russell


Sex is God's way of giving us something to do when we can't be doing mathematics. --- A Famous Mathematician


"There are three kinds of people in the world, those who can do math, and those who can't."


"we've run out of symbols... let's start using the russian alphabet..."
-graduate mathematical methods for physicists professor

"... Great minds of the past have shown this to be true..."