George Pólya (December 13, 1887 – September 7, 1985) was a Hungarian mathematician and professor of mathematics at ETH Zürich and at Stanford University. His work on heuristics and pedagogy has had substantial and lasting influence on mathematical education, and has also been influential in artificial intelligence.
How to Solve It (1945)
- Unless otherwise stated, page references are from the Expanded Princeton Science Library Edition (2004) ISBN 0-691-11966-X
- There was a seminar for advanced students in Zürich that I was teaching and von Neumann was in the class. I came to a certain theorem, and I said it is not proved and it may be difficult. Von Neumann didn't say anything but after five minutes he raised his hand. When I called on him he went to the blackboard and proceeded to write down the proof. After that I was afraid of von Neumann.
- 2nd ed. (1957), p. xv
- Analogy pervades all our thinking, our everyday speech and our trivial conclusions as well as artistic ways of expression and the highest scientific achievements.
- p. 37
- Euclid's manner of exposition, progressing relentlessly from the data to the unknown and from the hypothesis to the conclusion, is perfect for checking the argument in detail but far from being perfect for making understandable the main line of the argument.
- p. 70
- The best of ideas is hurt by uncritical acceptance and thrives on critical examination.
- p. 100
- We need heuristic reasoning when we construct a strict proof as we need scaffolding when we erect a building.
- p. 113
- Pedantry and mastery are opposite attitudes toward rules. To apply a rule to the letter, rigidly, unquestioningly, in cases where it fits and in cases where it does not fit, is pedantry. … To apply a rule with natural ease, with judgment, noticing the cases where it fits, and without ever letting the words of the rule obscure the purpose of the action or the opportunities of the situation, is mastery.
- p. 148
- To write and speak correctly is certainly necessary; but it is not sufficient. A derivation correctly presented in the book or on the blackboard may be inaccessible and uninstructive, if the purpose of the successive steps is incomprehensible, if the reader or listener cannot understand how it was humanly possible to find such an argument....
- p. 207
- The cookbook gives a detailed description of ingredients and procedures but no proofs for its prescriptions or reasons for its recipes; the proof of the pudding is in the eating. … Mathematics cannot be tested in exactly the same manner as a pudding; if all sorts of reasoning are debarred, a course of calculus may easily become an incoherent inventory of indigestible information.
- p. 219
About George Pólya
- For mathematics education and the world of problem solving it marked a line of demarcation between two eras, problem solving before and after Polya.
- A. H. Schoenfeld, in "Polya, Problem Solving, and Education" in Mathematics Magazine (1987)