Isaac Barrow

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Isaac Barrow (1630–1677).

Isaac Barrow (October 1630 – 4 May 1677) was an English Christian theologian, and mathematician who is generally given credit for his early role in the development of infinitesimal calculus; in particular, for the discovery of the fundamental theorem of calculus.

Quotes[edit]

  • The Mathematics which effectually exercises, not vainly deludes or vexatiously torments studious Minds with obscure Subtilties, perplexed Difficulties, or contentious Disquisitions; which overcomes without Opposition, triumphs without Pomp, compels without Force, and rules absolutely without Loss of Liberty; which does not privately overreach a weak Faith, but openly assaults an armed Reason, obtains a total Victory, and puts on inevitable Chains; whose Words are so many Oracles, and Works as many Miracles; which blabs out nothing rashly, nor designs anything from the Purpose, but plainly demonstrates and readily performs all Things within its Verge; which obtrudes no false Shadow of Science, but the very Science itself, the Mind firmly adheres to it, as soon as possessed of it, and can never after desert it of its own Accord, or be deprived of it by any Force of others: Lastly the Mathematics, which depend upon Principles clear to the Mind, and agreeable to Experience; which draws certain Conclusions, instructs by profitable Rules, unfolds pleasant Questions; and produces wonderful Effects; which is the fruitful Parent of, I had almost said all, Arts, the 47 unshaken Foundation of Sciences, and the plentiful Fountain of Advantage to human Affairs.
    • "Ration before the University of Cambridge on being elected Lucasian Professor of Mathematics," (1660), reported in: Mathematical Lectures, (London, 1734), p. 28.
  • Virtue is not a mushroom, that springeth up of itself in one night when we are asleep, or regard it not; but a delicate plant, that groweth slowly and tenderly, needing much pains to cultivate it, much care to guard it, much time to mature it, in our untoward soil, in this world's unkindly weather.
    • Quoted in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895) p. 612.
  • Smiling always with a never fading serenity of countenance, and flourishing in an immortal youth.
    • Isaac Barrow, Duty of Thanksgiving, Works, Volume I, p. 66; reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 921-24.

Mathematical Lectures (London, 1734)[edit]

Isaac Barrow, Mathematical Lectures, (London, 1734), Reported in Memorabilia mathematica or, The philomath's quotation-book by Robert Edouard Moritz. Published 1914.

  • For to pass by those Ancients, the wonderful Pythagoras, the sagacious Democritus, the divine Plato, the most subtle and very learned Aristotle, Men whom every Age has hitherto acknowledged as deservedly honored, as the greatest Philosophers, the Ring-leaders of Arts; in whose Judgments how much these Studies [mathematics] were esteemed, is abundantly proclaimed in History and confirmed by their famous Monuments, which are everywhere interspersed and bespangled with Mathematical Reasonings and Examples, as with so many Stars; and consequently anyone not in some Degree conversant in these Studies will in vain expect to understand, or unlock their hidden Meanings, without the Help of a Mathematical Key: For who can play well on Aristotle’s Instrument but with a Mathematical Quill; or not be altogether deaf to the Lessons of natural Philosophy, while ignorant of Geometry? Who void of (Geometry shall I say, or) Arithmetic can comprehend Plato’s 218 Socrates lisping with Children concerning Square Numbers; or can conceive Plato himself treating not only of the Universe, but the Polity of Commonwealths regulated by the Laws of Geometry, and formed according to a Mathematical Plan?
    • pp. 26-27.
  • Mathematics is the fruitful Parent of, I had almost said all, Arts, the unshaken Foundation of Sciences, and the plentiful Fountain of Advantage to Human Affairs. In which last Respect, we may be said to receive from the Mathematics, the principal Delights of Life, Securities of Health, Increase of Fortune, and Conveniences of Labour: That we dwell elegantly and commodiously, build decent Houses for ourselves, erect stately Temples to God, and leave wonderful Monuments to Posterity: That we are protected by those Rampires from the Incursions of the Enemy; rightly use Arms, skillfully range an Army, and manage War by Art, and not by the Madness of wild Beasts: That we have safe Traffick through the deceitful Billows, pass in a direct Road through the tractless Ways of the Sea, and come to the designed Ports by the uncertain Impulse of the Winds: That we rightly cast up our Accounts, do Business expeditiously, dispose, tabulate, and calculate scattered 248 Ranks of Numbers, and easily compute them, though expressive of huge Heaps of Sand, nay immense Hills of Atoms: That we make pacifick Separations of the Bounds of Lands, examine the Moments of Weights in an equal Balance, and distribute every one his own by a just Measure: That with a light Touch we thrust forward vast Bodies which way we will, and stop a huge Resistance with a very small Force: That we accurately delineate the Face of this Earthly Orb, and subject the Oeconomy of the Universe to our Sight: That we aptly digest the flowing Series of Time, distinguish what is acted by due Intervals, rightly account and discern the various Returns of the Seasons, the stated Periods of Years and Months, the alternate Increments of Days and Nights, the doubtful Limits of Light and Shadow, and the exact Differences of Hours and Minutes: That we derive the subtle Virtue of the Solar Rays to our Uses, infinitely extend the Sphere of Sight, enlarge the near Appearances of Things, bring to Hand Things remote, discover Things hidden, search Nature out of her Concealments, and unfold her dark Mysteries: That we delight our Eyes with beautiful Images, cunningly imitate the Devices and portray the Works of Nature; imitate did I say? nay excel, while we form to ourselves Things not in being, exhibit Things absent, and represent Things past: That we recreate our Minds and delight our Ears with melodious Sounds, attemperate the inconstant Undulations of the Air to musical Tunes, add a pleasant Voice to a sapless Log and draw a sweet Eloquence from a rigid Metal; celebrate our Maker with an harmonious Praise, and not unaptly imitate the blessed Choirs of Heaven: That we approach and examine the inaccessible Seats of the Clouds, the distant Tracts of Land, unfrequented Paths of the Sea; lofty Tops of the Mountains, low Bottoms of the Valleys, and deep Gulphs of the Ocean: That in Heart we advance to the Saints themselves above, yea draw them to us, scale the etherial Towers, freely range through the celestial Fields, measure the Magnitudes, and determine the Interstices of the Stars, prescribe inviolable Laws to the Heavens themselves, and confine the wandering Circuits of the Stars within fixed Bounds: Lastly, that we comprehend the vast Fabrick of the Universe, admire and contemplate the wonderful Beauty of the Divine 249 Workmanship, and to learn the incredible Force and Sagacity of our own Minds, by certain Experiments, and to acknowledge the Blessings of Heaven with pious Affection.
    • p. 27-30
  • These Disciplines [mathematics] serve to inure and corroborate the Mind to a constant Diligence in Study; to undergo the Trouble of an attentive Meditation, and cheerfully contend with such Difficulties as lie in the Way. They wholly deliver us from a credulous Simplicity, most strongly fortify us against the Vanity of Scepticism, effectually restrain from a rash Presumption, most easily incline us to a due Assent, perfectly subject us to the Government of right Reason, and inspire us with Resolution to wrestle against the unjust Tyranny of false Prejudices. If the Fancy be unstable and fluctuating, it is to be poised by this Ballast, and steadied by this Anchor, if the Wit be blunt it is sharpened upon this Whetstone; if luxuriant it is pared by this Knife; if headstrong it is restrained by this Bridle; and if dull it is roused by this Spur. The Steps are guided by no Lamp more clearly through the dark Mazes of Nature, by no Thread more surely through the intricate Labyrinths of Philosophy, nor lastly is the Bottom of Truth sounded more happily by any other Line. I will not mention how plentiful a Stock of Knowledge the Mind is furnished from these, with what wholesome Food it is nourished, and what sincere Pleasure it enjoys. But if I speak farther, I shall neither be the only Person, nor the first, who affirms it; that while the Mind is abstracted and elevated from sensible Matter, distinctly views pure Forms, conceives the Beauty of Ideas, and investigates the Harmony of Proportions; the Manners themselves are sensibly corrected and improved, the Affections composed and rectified, the Fancy calmed and settled, and the Understanding raised and excited to more divine Contemplation. All which I might defend by Authority, and confirm by the Suffrages of the greatest Philosophers.
    • p. 31: Prefatory Oration
  • An accomplished mathematician, i.e. a most wretched orator.
    • p. 32.
  • Now as to what pertains to these Surd numbers (which, as it were by way of reproach and calumny, having no merit of their own are also styled Irrational, Irregular, and Inexplicable) they are by many denied to be numbers properly speaking, and are wont to be banished from arithmetic to another Science, (which yet is no science) viz. algebra.
    • p. 44
  • It may be observed of mathematicians that they only meddle with such things as are certain, passing by those that are doubtful and unknown. They profess not to know all things, neither do they affect to speak of all things. What they know to be true, and can make good by invincible arguments, that they publish and insert among their theorems. Of other things they are silent and pass no judgment at all, choosing rather to acknowledge their ignorance, than affirm anything rashly. They affirm nothing among their arguments or assertions which is not most manifestly known and examined with utmost rigour, rejecting all probable conjectures and little witticisms. They submit nothing to authority, indulge no affection, detest subterfuges of words, and declare their sentiments, as in a court of justice, without passion, without apology; knowing that their reasons, as Seneca testifies of them, are not brought to persuade, but to compel.
    • p. 64
  • They [mathematicians] only take those things into consideration, of which they have clear and distinct ideas, designating them by proper, adequate, and invariable names, and premising only a few axioms which are most noted and certain to investigate their affections and draw conclusions from them, and agreeably laying down a very few hypotheses, such as are in the highest degree consonant with reason and not to be denied by anyone in his right mind. In like manner they assign generations or causes easy to be understood and readily admitted by all, they preserve a most accurate order, every proposition immediately following from what is supposed and proved before, and reject all things howsoever specious and probable which can not be inferred and deduced after the same manner.—Barrow, Isaac.
    • p. 66.
Statue of Isaac Barrow in the chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge.
  • The Definition in the Elements, according to Clavius, is this: Magnitudes are said to be in the same Reason [ratio], a first to a second, and a third to a fourth, when the Equimultiples of the first and third according to any Multiplication whatsoever are both together either short of, equal to, or exceed the Equimultiples of the second and fourth, if those be taken, which answer one another.... Such is Euclid’s Definition of Proportions; that scare-Crow at which the over modest or slothful Dispositions of Men are generally affrighted: they are modest, who distrust their own Ability, as soon as a Difficulty appears, but they are slothful that will not give some Attention for the learning of Sciences; as if while we are involved in Obscurity we could clear ourselves without Labour. Both of 300 which Sorts of Persons are to be admonished, that the former be not discouraged, nor the latter refuse a little Care and Diligence when a Thing requires some Study.
    • p. 388.

Quotes about Isaac Barrow[edit]

  • J.M. Child... has made a searching study of Barrow and has arrived at startling conclusions on the historical question relating to the first invention of the calculus. He places his conclusions in italics in the first sentence as follows Isaac Barrow was the first inventor of the Infinitesimal Calculus... Before entering upon an examination of the evidence brought forth by Child it may be of interest to review a similar claim set up for another man as inventor of the calculus... Fermat was declared to be the first inventor of the calculus by Lagrange, Laplace, and apparently also by P. Paul Tannery, than whom no more distinguished mathematical triumvirate can easily be found. ...Dinostratus and Barrow were clever men, but it seems to us that they did not create what by common agreement of mathematicians has been designated by the term differential and integral calculus. Two processes yielding equivalent results are not necessarily the same. It appears to us that what can be said of Barrow is that he worked out a set of geometric theorems suggesting to us constructions by which we can find lines, areas and volumes whose magnitudes are ordinarily found by the analytical processes of the calculus. But to say that Barrow invented a differential and integral calculus is to do violence to the habit of mathematical thought and expression of over two centuries. The invention rightly belongs to Newton and Leibniz.
    • Florian Cajori, "Who was the First Inventor of Calculus" The American Mathematical Monthly (1919) Vol.26

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