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Euclid (holding calipers), Greek mathematician, 3rd century BC, as imagined by Raphael in this detail from The School of Athens.[1]
It was mathematics, the non-empirical science par excellence, wherein the mind appears to play only with itself, that turned out to be the science of sciences, delivering the key to those laws of nature and the universe that are concealed by appearances. ~ Hannah Arendt
Number rules the universe. ~ Pythagoras

Mathematics is the body of knowledge centered on concepts such as quantity, structure, space, and change, and the academic discipline which studies them.

Quotes by mathematicians and philosophers

A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I-J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, W, Y-Z
Quotes that mention mathematics
A'-C', D'-L', M'-Z'
Misattributed, See also

Quotes by mathematicians and philosophers

The idea that theorems follow from the postulates does not correspond to simple observation … Euclid's postulates came from the Pythagorean theorem, not the other way around. ~ Richard Hamming
Mathematics is the language of size, shape and order and that it is an essential part of the equipment of an intelligent citizen to understand this language. ~ Lancelot Hogben


  • Any author who uses mathematics should always express in ordinary language the meaning of the assumptions he admits, as well as the significance of the results obtained. The more abstract his theory, the more imperative this obligation. In fact, mathematics are and can only be a tool to explore reality. In this exploration, mathematics do not constitute an end in itself, they are and can only be a means.
  • Mathematics is not a careful march down a well-cleared highway, but a journey into a strange wilderness, where the explorers often get lost. Rigour should be a signal to the historian that the maps have been made, and the real explorers have gone elsewhere.
    • W. S. Anglin, in "Mathematics and History", Mathematical Intelligencer 14(4), 1992, p. 10; elucidating the symmetry between the creative and logical aspects of mathematics.
  • In doing mathematics, I express something personal. It is a source of joy to know that, despite this personal aspect, the fruit of my work can be of interest to other mathematicians.
    • Nalini Anantharaman, Women in Mathematics Throughout Europe. A Gallery of Portraits (2016).
  • It was mathematics, the non-empirical science par excellence, wherein the mind appears to play only with itself, that turned out to be the science of sciences, delivering the key to those laws of nature and the universe that are concealed by appearances.


  • If in other sciences we should arrive at certainty without doubt and truth without error, it behooves us to place the foundations of knowledge in mathematics.
  • If a 'religion' is defined to be a system of ideas that contains unprovable statements, then Gödel taught us that mathematics is not only a religion, it is the only religion that can prove itself to be one.
  • Where there is life there is a pattern, and where there is a pattern there is mathematics. Once that germ of rationality and order exists to turn a chaos into a cosmos, then so does mathematics. There could not be a non-mathematical Universe containing living observers.
  • We say that the string is 'random' if there is no other representation of the string which is shorter than itself. But we will say that it is 'non-random' if there does exist such an abbreviated representation. ...In general, the shorter the possible representation... the less random... On this view we recognize science to be the search for algorithmic compressions. ...It is simplest to think of mathematics as the catalogue of all possible patterns. ...When viewed in this way, it is inevitable that the world is described by mathematics. ...In many ways the search for a Theory of Everything is a manifestation of a faith that this compression goes all the way down to the bedrock of reality...
  • Mathematics became an experimental subject. Individuals could follow previously intractable problems by simply watching what happened when they were programmed into a personal computer. ...The PC revolution has made science more visual and more immediate creating films of imaginary experiences of mathematical worlds. ...Words are no longer enough.
    • John D. Barrow, Cosmic Imagery: Key Images in the History of Science (2008).
  • A narrative of the decisive epochs in the development of mathematics was wanted. ...Numerous professionals... know from hard experience what mathematical invention means. ...Whoever has himself attempted to advance mathematics is inclined to be more skeptical than the average spectator toward any alleged anticipation of notable progress. ...often what looks like an anticipation ...was not even aimed in the right direction. ...when at length progress started; it proceeded along lines totally different from those which, in retrospect, it 'should' have followed.
  • Nearly always it is the recondite and complicated which is elaborated first; and it is only when some relatively unsophisticated mind attacks a problem that its deep simplicity is revealed.
  • Ruth felt that math was like sex—get all you can, but best not done in public.
    • Gregory Benford, The Sigma Structure Symphony (2012), reprinted in Paula Guran (ed.), Ex Libris: Stories of Librarians, Libraries & Lore (p. 331)
  • “It’s magic,” the chief cook concluded, in awe.
    “No, not magic,” the ship’s doctor replied. “It’s much more. It’s mathematics.”


  • I would myself say that the purely imaginary objects are the only realities, the ὂντως ὂντα [truest things], in regard to which the corresponding physical objects are as the shadows in the cave; and it is only by means of them that we are able to deny the existence of a corresponding physical object; and if there is no conception of straightness, then it is meaningless to deny the conception of a perfectly straight line.
  • Geometry is that of mathematical science which is devoted to consideration of form and size, and may be said to be the best and surest guide to study of all sciences in which ideas of dimension or space are involved. Almost all the knowledge required by navigators, architects, surveyors, engineers, and opticians, in their respective occupations, is deduced from geometry and branches of mathematics. All works of art are constructed according to the rules which geometry involves; and we find the same laws observed in the works of nature. The study of mathematics, generally, is also of great importance in cultivating habits of exact reasoning; and in this respect it forms a useful auxiliary to logic.
  • There is probably no other science which presents such different appearances to one who cultivates and one who does not, as mathematics. To [the non-mathematician] it is ancient, venerable, and complete; a body of dry, irrefutable, unambiguous reasoning. To the mathematician, on the other hand, his science is yet in the purple of bloom of vigorous youth, everywhere stretching out after the "attainable but unattained," and full of the excitement of nascent thoughts; its logic is beset with ambiguities, and its analytic processes, like Bunyan's road, have a quagmire on one side and a deep ditch on the other, and branch off into innumerable by-paths that end in a wilderness.
    • C. H. Chapman, Review of Sophus Lie's Theorie der Transformationsgruppen (1892) Bulletin of the New York Mathematical Society 2, p. 61.
  • The theory of the nature of mathematics is extremely reactionary. We do not subscribe to the fairly recent notion that mathematics is an abstract language based, say, on set theory. In many ways, it is unfortunate that philosophers and mathematicians like Russell and Hilbert were able to tell such a convincing story about the meaning-free formalism of mathematics. In Greek, mathematics simply meant learning, and we have adapted this... to define the term as "learning to decide." Mathematics is a way of preparing for decisions through thinking. Sets and classes provide one way to subdivide a problem for decision preparation; a set derives its meaning from decision making, and not vice versa.
    • C. West Churchman, Leonard Auerbach, Simcha Sadan, Thinking for Decisions: Deductive Quantitative Methods (1975) Preface.
  • To many, mathematics is a collection of theorems. For me, mathematics is a collection of examples; a theorem is a statement about a collection of examples and the purpose of proving theorems is to classify and explain the examples...
  • The study of mathematics is the indispensable basis for all intellectual and spiritual progress.


  • The progress of mathematics has been most erratic, and... intuition has played a predominant rôle in it. ...It was the function of intuition to create new forms; it was the acknowledged right of logic to accept or reject these new forms, in whose birth it had no part. ...the children had to live, so while waiting for logic to sanctify their existence, they throve and multiplied.
  • Between the philosopher's attitude towards the issue of reality and that of the mathematician there is this essential difference: for the philosopher the issue is paramount; the mathematician's love for reality is purely platonic.
    • Tobias Dantzig, Number: The Language of Science (1930).
  • The mathematician may be compared to a designer of garments, who is utterly oblivious of the creatures whom his garments may fit. ...The conic sections, invented in an attempt to solve the problem of doubling the altar of an oracle, ended by becoming the orbits followed by the planets... The imaginary magnitudes invented by Cardan and Bombelli describe... the characteristic features of alternating currents. The absolute differential calculus, which originated as a fantasy of Reimann, became the mathematical model for the theory of Relativity. And the matrices which were a complete abstraction in the days of Cayley and Sylvester appear admirably adapted to the... quantum of the atom.
  • The thing with mathematics is we keep thinking about how things work. And once you figure it out, you then see other things, connections and so on. And two weeks later it's so obvious that you could kick yourself for not having thought of it sooner. The high doesn't last! So you have to enjoy it as long as it does last.
  • Underpinning everything... are the laws of physics. These remarkably ingenious laws are able to permit matter to self-organize to the point where consciousness emerges in the cosmos—mind from matter—and the most striking product of the human mind is mathematics. This is the baffling thing. Mathematics is... produced by the human mind. Yet if we ask where mathematics works best, it is in areas like particle physics and astrophysics, areas of fundamental science that are very, very far removed from everyday affairs. the opposite end of spectrum of complexity from the human brain. ...a product of the most complex system we know in nature, the human brain, finds a consonance with the underlying, simplest and most fundamental level, the basic building blocks that make up the world.
    • Paul Davies, Are We Alone?: Philosophical Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life (1995).
  • It suggests to me that consciousness and our ability to do mathematics are no mere accident, no trivial detail, no insignificant by-product of evolution that is piggy-backing on some other mundane property. It points to what I like to call the cosmic connection, the existence of a really deep relationship between minds that can do mathematics and the underlying laws of nature that produce them. We have a closed system of consistency here: the laws of physics produce complex systems, and these complex systems lead to consciousness, which then produces mathematics, which can encode... the very laws of physics that gave rise to it.
    • Paul Davies, Are We Alone?: Philosophical Implications of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life (1995).
  • Physicists have been drawn to elegant mathematical relationships that bind the subject together with economy and style, melding disparate qualities in subtle and harmonious ways. But this is to import a new factor into the argument—questions of aesthetics and taste. We are then on shaky ground indeed. It may be that M theory looks beautiful to its creators, but ugly to N theorists, who think that their theory is the most elegant. But then the O theorists disagree with both groups...
    • Paul Davies, Cosmic Jackpot: Why Our Universe Is Just Right for Life (2007).
  • Mathematics, in an earlier view, is the science of space and quantity; in a later view, it is the science of pattern and deductive structure. Since the Greeks, mathematics is also the science of the infinite.
  • Our ignorance of this beautiful subject -- a tree of ideas with ancient roots and modern fruit -- is profound and beset with fear, superstition, and misinformation.
    • Paul J. Davis, "What Should the Public Know about Mathematics?", Daedalus (Winter, 1992).
  • A marveilous newtrality have these things mathematicall and also a strange participation between things supernaturall, imortall, intellectuall, simple and indivisible, and things naturall, mortall, sensible, compounded and divisible.
    • John Dee, The mathematicall praeface to the Elements of geometrie of Euclid of Megara (1570) as editor of Euclid's Elements, translated by Henry Billingsley.
  • The nature of mathematical demonstration is totally different from all other, and the difference consists in this—that, instead of showing the contrary of the proposition asserted to be only improbable, it proves it at once to be absurd and impossible. This is done by showing that the contrary of the proposition which is asserted is in direct contradiction to some extremely evident fact, of the truth of which our eyes and hands convince us.
  • With a view to summon myself to the search for a science of mathematics in general, I asked myself... what precisely was the meaning of this word mathematics, and why arithmetic and geometry only, and not also astronomy, music, optics, mechanics, and so many other sciences, should be considered as forming a part of it; for it is not enough here to know the etymology of the word. In reality the word mathematics meaning nothing but science, those which I have just named have as much right as geometry to be called mathematics; and nevertheless there is no one, however little instructed, who cannot distinguish at once what belongs to mathematics... from what belongs to the other sciences. But... all the sciences which have for their end investigations concerning order and measure, are related to mathematics, it being of small importance whether this measure be sought in numbers, forms, stars, sounds, or any other object; that, accordingly, there ought to exist a general science which should explain all that can be known about order and measure, considered independently of any application to a particular subject, and that, indeed, this science has its own proper name, consecrated by long usage, to wit, mathematics...
  • Mathematics in itself, as I say, is independent of experience. It begins with the free choice of symbols, to which are freely assigned properties, and it then proceeds to deduce the necessary rational implications of those properties.
  • It seems to be one of the fundamental features of nature that fundamental physical laws are described in terms of a mathematical theory of great beauty and power, needing quite a high standard of mathematics for one to understand it. You may wonder: Why is nature constructed along these lines? One can only answer that our present knowledge seems to show that nature is so constructed. We simply have to accept it. One could perhaps describe the situation by saying that God is a mathematician of a very high order, and He used very advanced mathematics in constructing the universe. Our feeble attempts at mathematics enable us to understand a bit of the universe, and as we proceed to develop higher and higher mathematics we can hope to understand the universe better.
    • Paul Dirac, "The Evolution of the Physicist's Picture of Nature," Scientific American (May, 1963).
  • Recreational mathematics is a splendid hobby which young and old can equally enjoy. The popularity of Sudoku shows that an aptitude for recreational mathematics is widespread in the population. From Sudoku it is easy to ascend to mathematical pursuits that offer more scope for imagination and originality.
    • Freeman Dyson, in "Foreword: Recreational Mathematics", The Best Writing on Mathematics 2011 (2011).


  • We tend to think of maths as being an 'exact' discipline, where answers are right or wrong. And it's true that there is a huge part of maths that is about exactness. But in everyday life, numerical answers are sometimes just the start of the debate. If we are trained to believe that every numerical question has a definite, 'right' answer then we miss the fact that numbers in the real world are a lot fuzzier than pure maths might suggest.
    • Rob Eastaway, Maths on the Back of an Envelope (2019).
  • I shall here present the view that numbers, even whole numbers, are words, parts of speech, and that mathematics is their grammar. Numbers were therefore invented by people in the same sense that language, both written and spoken, was invented. Grammar is also an invention. Words and numbers have no existence separate from the people who use them. Knowledge of mathematics is transmitted from one generation to another, and it changes in the same slow way that language changes. Continuity is provided by the process of oral or written transmission.
    • Carl Eckart, Our Modern Idol: Mathematical Science (1984), p. 95.
  • Proof is the idol before whom the pure mathematician tortures himself.
  • In so far as theories of mathematics speak about reality, they are not certain, and in so far as they are certain, they do not speak about reality.
    • Albert Einstein, Geometrie and Erfahrung (1921) pp. 3 f. as cited by Karl Popper, The Two Fundamental Problems of the Theory of Knowledge (2014) Tr. Andreas Pickel, Ed. Troels Eggers Hansen.
  • It is my conviction that pure mathematical construction enables us to discover the concepts and the laws connecting them, which give us the key to the understanding of the phenomena of Nature.
    • Albert Einstein, On the Method of Theoretical Physics (1933) Lecture at the University of Oxford, as quoted in Mathematics Magazine (1990) Vol. 63., p. 237.
  • There is no royal road to geometry. (μή εἶναι βασιλικήν ἀτραπόν ἐπί γεωμετρίαν, Non est regia [inquit Euclides] ad Geometriam via)
    • Euclid, alleged reply when Ptolemy I Soter asked him if there was a shorter road to learning geometry than through Euclid's Elements.


  • If you are interested in the ultimate character of the physical world, or the complete world, and at the present time our only way to understand that is through the mathematical type of reasoning... the great depth of character of the universality of the laws, the relationships of things... I don't know any other way to do it, we don't know any other way to describe it accurately... or to see the interrelationships without it... don't misunderstand me, there are many, many aspects of the world that mathematics is unnecessary for... but we were talking about physics... to not know mathematics is a severe limitation in understanding the world.
  • Mathematics offers a common language across borders. It is a real joy.
    • Alice Fialowski, Women in Mathematics Throughout Europe. A Gallery of Portraits (2016).
  • The analytical equations, unknown to the ancient geometers, which Descartes was the first to introduce into the study of curves and surfaces, are not restricted to the properties of figures, and to those properties which are the object of rational mechanics; they extend to all general phenomena. There cannot be a language more universal and more simple, more free from errors and from obscurities, that is to say more worthy to express the invariable relations of natural things.
    Considered from this point of view, mathematical analysis is as extensive as nature itself; it defines all perceptible relations, measures times, spaces, forces, temperatures; this difficult science is formed slowly, but it preserves every principle which it has once acquired; it grows and strengthens itself incessantly in the midst of the many variations and errors of the human mind.
    Its chief attribute is clearness; it has no marks to express confused notions. It brings together phenomena the most diverse, and discovers the hidden analogies which unite them.
  • Numbers exist only in our minds. There is no physical entity that is number 1. If there were, 1 would be in a place of honor in some great museum of science, and past it would file a steady stream of mathematicians gazing at 1 in wonder and awe.
    • John B. Fraleigh, Raymond A. Beauregard, Linear Algebra (1995).
  • I united the majority of well-informed persons into a club, which we called by the name of the Junto, and the object of which was to improve our understandings. ... The first members of our club were...
    Thomas Godfrey, a self-taught mathematician, and afterwards inventor of what is now called Hadley's dial; but he had little knowledge out of his own line, and was insupportable in company, always requiring, like the majority of mathematicians that have fallen in my way, an unusual precision in everything that is said, continually contradicting, or making trifling distinctions—a sure way of defeating all the ends of conversation. He very soon left us.
  • Mathematics ought properly to be a model of logical clarity. In actual fact there are perhaps no scientific works where you will find more wrong expressions, and consequently wrong thoughts, than in mathematical ones.
  • The forbidding symbols and equations are just another language: code for beautiful ideas that often find surprising uses in the ordinary world we all live in.
  • Maths is the language spoken by all the sciences, taking us to the frontiers of knowledge, from the workings of the Universe to the workings of our minds, which enabled us to dream it all up in the first place.
  • For many, maths is fundamentally beautiful; indeed many mathematicians won’t be entirely satisfied with their work until it has an elegance, simplicity and grace. Others are drawn by its ‘unreasonable effectiveness’ - its power to explain the world we live in.
  • It might have been beans, successful hunts, or victories in battle, but, for millennia, people were using maths to describe things - counting them, measuring them, dividing them up.
  • It is a truth universally acknowledged … that ε (pronounced ‘epsilon’) is always a very small number, and usually comes with a δ (pronounced ‘delta’).
  • An arguing couple spiraling into negativity and teetering on the brink of divorce is actually mathematically equivalent to the beginning of a nuclear war.
  • You can’t think of maths just as this abstract thing that exists only in isolation. I genuinely struggle to find a topic where maths can’t offer you at least some use or insight.
  • There’s barely any aspect of our modern lives that hasn’t had a mathematical contribution at some point and yet, if you asked the average person, they might think that maths is just difficult, irrelevant and uninteresting.


  • What has philosophy got to do with measuring anything? It's the mathematicians you have to trust, and they measure the skies like we measure a field.
  • Philosophy is written in that great book which ever lies before our eyes — I mean the universe — but we cannot understand it if we do not first learn the language and grasp the symbols, in which it is written. This book is written in the mathematical language, and the symbols are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without whose help it is impossible to comprehend a single word of it; without which one wanders in vain through a dark labyrinth.
  • Humane wis­dom understandeth some propositions so perfectly, and is as abso­lutely certain thereof, as Nature herself; and such are the pure Mathematical sciences, to wit, Geometry and Arithmetick: in which Divine Wisdom knows infinite more propositions, because it knows them all; but I believe that the knowledge of those few compre­hended by humane understanding, equalleth the divine, as to the certainty objectivè, for that it arriveth to comprehend the neces­sity thereof, than which there can be no greater certainty.
  • I've always felt that a teacher can introduce recreational math; and I'm defining it in the very broad sense to include anything that has a spirit of play about it. I don't know of any better way to hook the interests of the students.
    • Martin Gardner, quoted by Anthony Barcellos in "A Conversation With Martin Gardner", The Two-Year College Math Journal 10(4), 1979, pp. 223-244.
  • The element of play, which makes recreational mathematics recreational, may take many forms: a puzzle to be solved, a competitive game, a magic trick, paradox, fallacy, or simply mathematics with any sort of curious or amusing fillip.
    • Martin Gardner in The Scientific American Book of Mathematical Puzzles & Diversions (1959).
  • There is not much difference between the delight a novice experiences in cracking a clever brain teaser and the delight a mathematician experiences in mastering a more advanced problem. Both look on beauty bare -- that clean, sharply defined, mysterious, entrancing order that underlies all structure.
    • Martin Gardner in The Scientific American Book of Mathematical Puzzles & Diversions (1959).
  • Mathematical magic combines the beauty of mathematical structure with the entertainment value of a trick.
  • ...[A]ll the measurements in the world do not balance one theorem by which the science of eternal truths is actually advanced.
  • A set is a unity of which its elements are the constituents. It is a fundamental property of the mind to comprehend multitudes into unities. Sets are multitudes which are also unities. A multitude is the opposite of a unity. How can anything be both a multitude and a unity? Yet a set is just that. It is a seemingly contradictory fact that sets exist. It is surprising that the fact that multitudes are also unities leads to no contradictions: this is the main fact of mathematics. Thinking a plurality together seems like a triviality: and this appears to explain why we have no contradiction. But “many things for one” is far from trivial.
    • Kurt Gödel, as quoted in A Logical Journey by Hao Wang (1996).
  • Even God cannot make two times two not make four.
    • Hugo Grotius, as quoted in Delbert D. Thiessen (ed.), A Sociobiology Compendium: Aphorisms, Sayings, Asides, p. 18.


  • Mathematical methods present... two advantages. Their terminology is precise and concentrated, in a fashion which ordinary language cannot afford to adopt. Further, the symbols which result from their employment have implications which, when brought to light, yield new knowledge. This is deductively reached, but it is none the less new knowledge. With greater precision than is usual, ordinary language may be made to do some, if not a great deal, of this work for which mathematical methods are alone quite appropriate. If ordinary language can do part of it an advantage may be gained. The difficulty that attends mathematical symbolism is the accompanying tendency to take the symbol as exhaustively descriptive of reality. Now it is not so descriptive. It always embodies an abstraction. It accordingly leads to the use of metaphors which are inadequate and generally untrue. It is only qualification by descriptive language of a wider range that can keep this tendency in check.
  • The idea that theorems follow from the postulates does not correspond to simple observation. If the Pythagorean theorem were found to not follow from the postulates, we would again search for a way to alter the postulates until it was true. Euclid's postulates came from the Pythagorean theorem, not the other way around.
    • Richard Hamming, "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics", The American Mathematical Monthly 87 (2), February 1980, pp. 81-90.
  • I remember once going to see him when he was ill at Putney. I had ridden in taxi cab number 1729 and remarked that the number seemed to me rather a dull one, and that I hoped it was not an unfavorable omen. "No," he replied, "it is a very interesting number; it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways."
    • G. H. Hardy, Quotations by Hardy. Retrieved on 27 November 2013..
    • The number 1729 is known as the Hardy–Ramanujan number after a famous anecdote of Hardy regarding a visit to the hospital to see S. Ramanujan.
  • Archimedes will be remembered when Aeschylus is forgotten, because languages die and mathematical ideas do not. "Immortality" may be a silly word, but probably a mathematician has the best chance of whatever it may mean.
  • A mathematician, like a painter or poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.
  • Mathematicians have constructed a very large number of different systems of geometry, Euclidean or non-Euclidean, of one, two, three, or any number of dimensions. All these systems are of complete and equal validity. They embody the results of mathematicians' observations of their reality, a reality far more intense and far more rigid than the dubious and elusive reality of physics. The old-fashioned geometry of Euclid, the entertaining seven-point geometry of Veblen, the space-times of Minkowski and Einstein, are all absolutely and equally real. ...There may be three dimensions in this room and five next door. As a professional mathematician, I have no idea; I can only ask some competent physicist to instruct me in the facts.
    The function of a mathematician, then, is simply to observe the facts about his own intricate system of reality, that astonishingly beautiful complex of logical relations which forms the subject-matter of his science, as if he were an explorer looking at a distant range of mountains, and to record the results of his observations in a series of maps, each of which is a branch of pure mathematics. ...Among them there perhaps none quite so fascinating, with quite the astonishing contrasts of sharp outline and shade, as that which constitutes the theory of numbers.
  • There are men of a certain type of mind who are never wearied with gibing at mathematics, at mathematicians, and at mathematical methods of inquiry. It goes almost without saying that these men have themselves little mathematical bent. I believe this to be a general fact; but, as a fact, it does not explain very well their attitude towards mathematicians. The reason seems to lie deeper. How does it come about, for instance, that whilst they are themselves so transparently ignorant of the real nature, meaning, and effects of mathematical investigation, they yet lay down the law in the most confident and self-satisfied manner, telling the mathematician what the nature of his work is (or rather is not), and of its erroneousness and inutility, and so forth? It is quite as if they knew all about it.
    It reminds one of the professional paradoxers... They, too, write as if they knew all about it. Plainly, then, the anti-mathematician must belong to the same class as the paradoxer, whose characteristic is to be wise in his ignorance, whereas the really wise man is ignorant in his wisdom. ...What is of greater importance is that the anti-mathematicians sometimes do a deal of mischief. For there are many of a neutral frame of mind, little acquainted themselves with mathematical methods, who are sufficiently impressible to be easily taken in by the gibers and to be prejudiced thereby; and, should they possess some mathematical bent, they may be hindered by their prejudice from giving it fair development. We cannot all be Newtons or Laplace's, but that there is an immense amount of moderate mathematical talent lying latent in the average man I regard as a fact; and even the moderate development implied in a working knowledge of simple algebraical equations can, with common-sense to assist, be not only the means of valuable mental discipline, but even be of commercial importance (which goes a long way with some people), should one's occupation be a branch of engineering for example.
  • [E]ven in the most precise part of science, in mathematics, we cannot avoid using concepts that involve contradictions. ...[I]t is well known that the concept of infinity leads to contradictions that have been analyzed, but it would be practically impossible to construct the main parts of mathematics without this concept.
    • Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science (1958) p. 175. Lectures delivered at University of St. Andrews, Scotland, Winter 1955-56.
  • Dialectical mathematics is a rigorously logical science, where statements are either true or false, and where objects with specified properties either do or do not exist. Algorithmic mathematics is a tool for solving problems. Here we are concerned not only with the existence of a mathematical object, but also with the credentials of its existence. Dialectical mathematics is an intellectual game played according to rules about which there is a high degree of consensus. The rules of the game of algorithmic mathematics may vary according to the urgency of the problem on hand. We never could have put a man on the moon if we had insisted that the trajectories should be computed with dialectic rigor. The rules may also vary according to the computing equipment available. Dialectic mathematics invites contemplation. Algorithmic mathematics invites action. Dialectic mathematics generates insight. Algorithmic mathematics generates results.
    • Peter Henrici, "Computational Complex Analysis," The Influence of Computing on Mathematical Research and Education (1974) ed., Joseph P. LaSalle, p. 80.
  • An old French mathematician said: A mathematical theory is not to be considered complete until you have made it so clear that you can explain it to the first man whom you meet on the street. This clearness and ease of comprehension, here insisted on for a mathematical theory, I should still more demand for a mathematical problem if it is to be perfect; for what is clear and easily comprehended attracts, the complicated repels us.
    • David Hilbert, Mathematical Problems (1900) address, International Congress of Mathematicians at Paris, Tr. Maby Winton Newson, Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society 8 (1902).
  • The art of doing mathematics consists in finding that special case which contains all the germs of generality.
  • The doctrine of Right and Wrong, is perpetually disputed, both by Pen and the Sword: Whereas the doctrine of Lines, and Figures, is not so; because men care not, in that subject what be truth, as a thing that crosses no mans ambition, profit, or lust. For I doubt not, but if it had been a thing contrary to any mans right of dominion, or to the interest of men that have dominion, That the three Angles of a Triangle, should be equall to two Angles of a Square; that doctrine should have been, if not disputed, yet by the burning of all books of Geometry, suppressed, as far as he whom it concerned was able.
  • Who has studied the works of such men as Euler, Lagrange, Cauchy, Riemann, Sophus Lie, and Weierstrass, can doubt that a great mathematician is a great artist? The faculties possessed by such men, varying greatly in kind and degree with the individual, are analogous with those requisite for constructive art. Not every mathematician possesses in a specially high degree that critical faculty which finds its employment in the perfection of form, in conformity with the ideal of logical completeness; but every great mathematician possesses the rarer faculty of constructive imagination.
  • Mathematics is the language of size, shape and order and that it is an essential part of the equipment of an intelligent citizen to understand this language. If the rules of mathematics are the rules of grammar, there is no stupidity involved when we fail to see that a mathematical truth is obvious. The rules of ordinary grammar are not obvious. They have to be learned. They are not eternal truths. They are conveniences without whose aid truths about the sorts of things in the world cannot be communicated from one person to another.
  • As soon as a thought or word becomes a tool, one can dispense with actually ‘thinking’ it, that is, with going through the logical acts involved in verbal formulation of it. As has been pointed out, often and correctly, the advantage of mathematics—the model of all neo-positivistic thinking—lies in just this ‘intellectual economy.’ Complicated logical operations are carried out without actual performance of the intellectual acts upon which the mathematical and logical symbols are based. … Reason … becomes a fetish, a magic entity that is accepted rather than intellectually experienced.
  • Mathematics may be compared to a mill of exquisite workmanship, which grinds your stuff of any degree of fineness; but, nevertheless, what you get out depends upon what you put in; and as the grandest mill in the world will not extract wheat flour from peascods, so pages of formulæ will not get a definite result out of loose data.
    • Thomas Henry Huxley, "Anniversary Address of the President", Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London (1869) Vol. 25, p. l in p. xxviii-liii; as reprinted in Aphorisms and Reflections (1908) CCXXVI, p. 93 ed., Henrietta A. Huxley Huxley, and in Discourses, Biological and Geological essays (1909), pp. 335–336.


  • From the intrinsic evidence of his creation, the Great Architect of the Universe now begins to appear as a pure mathematician.
    • Sir James Jeans, The Mysterious Universe (1930) p. 165.
  • The final truth about a phenomenon resides in the mathematical description of it; so long as there is no imperfection in this, our knowledge of the phenomenon is complete. We go beyond the mathematical formula at our own risk; we may find a model or a picture which helps us understand it, but we have no right to expect this, and our failure to find such a model or picture need not indicate that either our reasoning or our knowledge is at fault. The making of models or pictures to explain mathematical formulas and the phenomena they describe is not a step towards, but a step away from reality; it is like making a graven image of a spirit.
  • Clearly, if electric action is to be explained in mechanical terms, the mechanism must be supposed to be attached to the electric charges, and to move through space with them. It must extend through the whole of space, because the attraction and repulsion of an electron extend through the whole of space, and it must be the same for all directions in space. Further, as the pattern of events is unaltered by motion, the mechanism must be the same when the electron is in motion as when it is at rest. But experiment shows that an electron in motion exerts additional forces which are not the same for all directions in space; if we picture this electron as moving head-foremost through space, these forces surround it like a belt around its waist.
    Thus direct experimental evidence shows that the forces exerted by an electron (or... any charged body) can neither be attributed to any mechanism attached to the body, nor through action transmitted through an ether or any medium surrounding the body. We have a perfect specification of the pattern of events written... in the language of mathematics, but this does not admit of interpretation in mechanical terms, or indeed in any terms other than those of mathematics.
    • Sir James Jeans, Physics and Philosophy (1942) pp. 121-122.
  • We will always have STEM with us. Some things will drop out of the public eye and will go away, but there will always be science, engineering and technology. And there will always, always be mathematics. Everything is physics and math.


  • I maintain that in every special natural doctrine only so much science proper is to be met with as mathematics; for... science proper, especially of nature, requires a pure portion, lying at the foundation of the empirical, and based upon à priori knowledge of natural things. ...the conception should be constructed. But the cognition of the reason through construction of conceptions is mathematical. A pure philosophy of nature in general, namely, one that only investigates what constitutes a nature in general, may thus be possible without mathematics; but a pure doctrine of nature respecting determinate natural things (corporeal doctrine and mental doctrine), is only possible by means of mathematics; and as in every natural doctrine only so much science proper is to be met with therein as there is cognition à priori, a doctrine of nature can only contain so much science proper as there is in it of applied mathematics.
  • The science of mathematics presents the most brilliant example of how pure reason may successfully enlarge its domain without the aid of experience.
  • Those who thought they could distinguish philosophy from mathematics by saying that the former was concerned with quality only, the latter with quantity only, mistook effect for cause. It is owing to the form of mathematical knowledge that it can refer to quanta only, because it is only the concept of quantities that admits of construction, that is, of a priori representation in intuition, while qualities cannot be represented in any but empirical intuition.
    • Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (1781) Tr. Max Müller (1881) p. 612.
  • There is a familiar formula—perhaps the most compact and famous of all formulas—developed by Euler from a discovery of De Moivre: e + 1 = 0. ...It appeals equally to the mystic, the scientist, the philosopher, the mathematician.
  • My earliest mathematical memory is my father explaining to me the theorem that three angles in a triangle add up to 180 degrees. The idea that something could be proved to be always true was very appealing to me.
    • Frances Kirwan, Women in Mathematics Throughout Europe. A Gallery of Portraits (2016).
  • It is impossible, and it has always been impossible, to grasp the meaning of what we nowadays call physics independently of its mathematical form.
    • Jacob Klein, Greek Mathematical Thought and the Origin of Algebra (1968).
  • There is no doubt... that mathematicians are generally overzealous about conciseness, and in their passion for brevity indulge in symbols even where these seem no better than a familiar English word or phrase. A faulty judgement has caused mathematicians to equate elegance and conciseness at the cost of intelligibility.
  • Electromagnetic theory is entirely a mathematical theory illustrated by a few crude physical pictures. These pictures are no more than the clothes that dress up the body of mathematics and make it appear presentable in the society of sciences. ...Though he [James Clerk Maxwell] had tried desperately to build a physical account of electromagnetic phenomena, in his classic Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism he omitted most of this material and emphasized the highly polished, complex mathematical theory. ...Radio waves and light waves operate in a physical darkness illuminated only for those who would carry the torch of mathematics.
    • Morris Kline, Mathematics and the Physical World (1959) pp. 360-361.
  • One of the curious things about mathematics that clearly emerges... is that mathematics which is concerned with reasoning nevertheless creates processes which can be applied almost mechanically, that is, without reasoning. The thinking is, so to speak, mechanized and this mechanization enables us to solve complicated problems in no time. We think up processes so that we don't have to think.
    • Morris Kline, Mathematics for the Nonmathematician (1967) p. 118.
  • There is no mathematical substitute for philosophy.
    • Saul Kripke, "Is There a Problem About Substitutional Quantification?" In Gareth Evans & John McDowell (eds.), Truth and Meaning (1976) pp. 324-419.


  • It is a well-known experience that the only truly enjoyable and profitable way of studying mathematics is the method of "filling in details" by one's own efforts.
  • There is a temptingly simple explanation for the fact that science is mathematical in nature: it is because we give the name of science to those areas of intellectual inquiry that yield to mathematical analysis. ...Science with precisely those subjects amenable to quantitative analysis, and that is why mathematics is the appropriate language... The puzzle becomes a tautology: mathematics is the language of science because we reserve the name "science" for anything that mathematics can handle. If it's not mathematical, to some degree at least, it isn't really science.
    • David Lindley, The End of Physics: The Myth of a Unified Theory (1993) p. 4.
  • There is no branch of mathematics, however abstract, which may not some day be applied to phenomena of the real world.
    • Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky, as quoted in George Edward Martin, The Foundations of Geometry and the Non-Euclidean Plane, Springer (1998 [1975]), p. 225; also in Stanley Gudder, A Mathematical Journey, McGraw-Hill (1976), p. 36.
  • The only thing I am interested in using mathematics for is to have a good time and to help others do the same.
    • Paul Lockheart in A Mathematician's Lament (2002).
  • You should not choose to do mathematics if you want to make money; your salary as a mathematician will never correspond to the amount of time and energy invested in your work.
    • Margarida Mendes Lopes, Women in Mathematics Throughout Europe. A Gallery of Portraits (2016).
  • You know I always have so many metaphysical enquiries & speculations which intrude themselves, that I never am really satisfied that I understand anything; because, understand it as well as I may, my comprehension can only be an infinitesimal fraction of all I want to understand about the many connexions & relations which occur to me, how the matter in question was first thought of or arrived at, &c., &c.


  • I have not in every case been able to avoid the use of the abbreviated and precise terminology of mathematics. To do so would have been to sacrifice matter to form; for the language of everyday life has not yet grown to be sufficiently accurate for the purposes of so exact a science as mechanics.
  • Mathematics is only asking you to be it's loyal and committed friend, that's all. Is that too much to ask for?
    • Phemelo Maise
  • Think of it: of the infinity of real numbers, those that are most important to mathematics—0, 1, √2, e and π—are located within less than four units on the number line. A remarkable coincidence? A mere detail in the Creator's grand design? I let the reader decide.
    • Eli Maor, e: The Story of a Number (1994).
  • I have not been able to lay my hands on any notes as to Mathematico-economics that would be of any use to you. I have very indistinct memories of what I used to think on the subject. I never read mathematics now: in fact I have even forgotten how to integrate a good many things.
    But I know I had a growing feeling in the later years of my work at the subject that a good mathematical theorem dealing with economic hypotheses was very well unlikely to be good economics: and I went more and more on the rules—(1) Use mathematics as a shorthand language, rather than as an engine of inquiry. (2) Keep to them till you have done. (3) Translate into English. (4) Then illustrate by examples that are important in real life. (5) Burn the mathematics. (6) If you can’t succeed in (4), burn (3). This last I do often.
  • There are times when I feel like I'm in a big forest and don't know where I'm going. But then somehow I come to the top of a hill and can see everything more clearly. When that happens, it's really exciting.
  • I like crossing the imaginary boundaries people set up between different fields—it's very refreshing. There are lots of tools, and you don't know which one would work. It's about being optimistic and trying to connect things.
  • One should not be deceived by philosophical works that pretend to be mathematical, but are merely dubious and murky metaphysics. Just because a philosopher can recite the words lemma, theorem and corollary doesn't mean that his work has the certainty of mathematics. That certainty does not derive from big words, or even from the method used by geometers, but rather from the utter simplicity of the objects considered by mathematics.
  • Mathematicians may flatter themselves that they possess new ideas which mere human language is yet unable to express. Let them make the effort to express these ideas in appropriate words without the aid of symbols, and if they succeed they will not only lay us laymen under a lasting obligation, but we venture to say, they will find themselves very much enlightened during the process, and will even be doubtful whether the ideas as expressed in symbols had ever quite found their way out of the equations of their minds.
  • Theorems often tell us complex truths about the simple things, but only rarely tell us simple truths about the complex ones. To believe otherwise is wishful thinking or "mathematics envy."
  • The thorough analysis of even simple problems in arithmetic may require the application of advanced mathematics.
    • Lloyd Motz & Jefferson Hane Weaver, Conquering Mathematics: From Arithmetic to Calculus (1991).
  • Mathematics is good for the soul, getting things right enlivens a sense of truth, efforts to understand automatically purify desires.
  • Mathematics is the source of a wicked intellect that, while making man the lord of the earth, also makes him the slave of the machine.
  • Mathematics is the bold luxury of pure reason, one of the few that remain today.
  • In their field they [mathematicians] do what we ought to be doing in ours. Therein lies the significant lesson … of their existence. They are an analogy for the intellectual of the future.


  • Wer ein mathematisches Buch nicht mit Andacht ergreift, und es wie Gottes-Wort liest, der versteht es nicht.
    • Whoever seizes a mathematical book without devotion, whoever does not read it as if it were God's word, doesn't understand it.
      • Novalis, Fragmente vermischten Inhalts.




  • More often than not, a piece of mathematics worked out years before—and believed to be totally without practical value—finds a role in the “real” world.
    • Ivars Peterson (1998). The Mathematical Tourist. Barnes & Noble. p. 9. ISBN 0-7607-2361-3. 
  • In the early 1900s, a great mathematician was expected to comprehend the whole of known mathematics. Mathematics was a shallow pool. Today the mathematical waters have grown so deep that a great mathematician can know only about 5% of the entire corpus. What will the future of mathematics be as specialized mathematicians know more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing?
  • [...] I who do not even dare to say, when one is added to one, whether the one to which the addition was made has become two, or the one which was added, or the one which was added and the one to which it was added became two by the addition of each to the other. I think it is wonderful that when each of them was separate from the other, each was one and they were not then two, and when they were brought near each other this juxtaposition was the cause of their becoming two. And I cannot yet believe that if one is divided, the division causes it to become two; for this is the opposite of the cause which produced two in the former case; for then two arose because one was brought near and added to another one, and now because one is removed and separated from other. And I no longer believe that I know by this method even how one is generated or, in a word, how anything is generated or is destroyed or exists, and I no longer admit this method, but have another confused way of my own.
    • Socrates in Plato's Phaedo, translated by Harold North Fowler (1966).
  • Mathematicians do not study objects, but the relations between objects; to them it is a matter of indifference if these objects are replaced by others, provided that the relations do not change. Matter does not engage their attention, they are interested in form alone.
  • What we call objective reality is, in the last analysis, what is common to many thinking beings, and could be common to all; this common part, we shall see, can only be the harmony expressed by mathematical laws. It is this harmony then which is the sole objective reality, the only truth we can attain; and when I add that the universal harmony of the world is the source of all beauty, it will be understood what price we should attach to the slow and difficult progress which little by little enables us to know it better.
  • Mathematics have a triple aim. They must furnish an instrument for the study of nature. But that is not all: they have a philosophic aim and, I dare maintain, an esthetic aim. They must aid the philosopher to fathom the notions of number, of space, of time. And above all, their adepts find therein delights analogous to those given by painting and music. They admire the delicate harmony of numbers and forms; they marvel when a new discovery opens to them an unexpected perspective; and has not the joy they thus feel the esthetic character, even though the senses take no part therein? Only a privileged few are called to enjoy it fully, it is true, but is not this the case for all the noblest arts?
    This is why I do not hesitate to say that mathematics deserve to be cultivated for their own sake, and the theories inapplicable to physics as well as the others. Even if the physical aim and the esthetic aim were not united, we ought not to sacrifice either.
    • Henri Poincaré, The Value of Science (1905) Tr. George Bruce Halsted pp. 75-76.
  • We should not believe... that commensurability is a quality of every magnitude as of all the numbers; and whoever has not investigated this subject, shows a gross and unseemly ignorance of what the Athenian Stranger says in the seventh treatise of the Book of the Laws, [namely], "And besides there is found in every man an ignorance, shameful in its nature and ludicrous, concerning everything which has the dimensions, length, breadth, and depth; and it is clear that mathematics can free them from this ignorance. For I hold that this [ignorance] is a brutish and not a human state, and I am verily ashamed, not for myself only, but for all Greeks, of the opinion of those men who prefer to believe what this whole generation believes, [namely], that commensurability is necessarily a quality of all magnitudes. For everyone of them says: "We conceive that those things are essentially the same, some of which can measure the others in some way or other. But the fact is that only some of them are measured by common measures, whereas others cannot be measured at all".
    • Pappus of Alexandria quoting Plato, The Commentary of Pappus on Book X of Euclid's Elements (1930) Arabic Text and Translation by William Thomson with Introductory Remarks, Notes, and a Glossary of Technical Terms by Gustav Junge and William Thomson, p. 75.
  • There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres.
    • Pythagoras, as quoted in The Mystery of Matter‎ (1965) edited by Louise B. Young.


  • The more advanced the sciences have become, the more they have tended to enter the domain of mathematics, which is a sort of center towards which they converge. We can judge of the perfection to which a science has come by the facility, more or less great, with which it may be approached by calculation.


  • An equation means nothing to me unless it expresses a thought of God.
  • I used to fear I was not made for mathematics and would look for people to tell me I was on the right track. You need to develop a personal conviction that you are a mathematician, and that what you are doing makes sense.
    • Katarzyna Rejzner, Women in Mathematics Throughout Europe. A Gallery of Portraits (2016).
  • Mathematics has the dubious honor of being the least popular subject in the curriculum … Future teachers pass through the elementary schools learning to detest mathematics. They drop it in high school as early as possible. They avoid it in teachers' colleges because it is not required. They return to the elementary school to teach a new generation to detest it.
  • Mathematics lays the foundation of all the ex­act sciences. It teaches the art of combining num­bers, of calculating and measuring distances, how to solve problems, to weigh mountains, to fathom the depths of the ocean; but gives no directions how to ascertain the existence of a God.
    • Ernestine Rose 1881, A Defence of Atheism: A lecture delivered in Mercantile Hall, Boston on 10 April, 1861, p. 4
  • Mathematics may be universal in a nonpersonal sense, but whether it can appeal to all people and be understood by all people is another question.
    • Robert A. Rosenbaum (1915–2017), May, Kenneth O., ed. "Chapter IV. From 1946 to 1965 by R. A. Rosenbaum". The Mathematical Association of America: Its First Fifty Years. The Mathematical Association of America (MAA). pp. 62–77.  (quote from p. 71) pdf at
  • Sometime, in the future that is knocking at our door, we shall have to retrain ourselves or our children to properly tell the truth. The exercise will be particularly painful in mathematics. The enrapturing discoveries of our field systematically conceal, like footprints erased in sand, the analogical train of thought that is the authentic life of mathematics. Shocking as it may be to the conservative logician, the day will come when currently vague concepts such as motivation and purpose will be made formal and accepted as constituents of a revamped logic, where they will at last be alloted the equal status they deserve, side-by-side with axioms and theorems. Until that day, however, the truths of mathematics will make only fleeting appearances, like shameful confessions whispered to a priest, to a psychiatrist, or to a wife.
    • Gian-Carlo Rota, Preface (Feb 7, 1985) to Mark Kac, Gian-Carlo Rota, Jacob T. Schwartz, Discrete Thoughts: Essays on Mathematics, Science and Philosophy (1986)
  • By all accounts mathematics is mankind’s most successful intellectual undertaking. Every problem of mathematics gets solved, sooner or later. Once solved, a mathematical problem is forever finished: no later event will disprove a correct solution. As mathematics progresses, problems that were difficult become easy and can be assigned to schoolchildren.Thus Euclidean geometry is taught in the second year of high school. Similarly, the mathematics learned by my generation in graduate school is now taught at the undergraduate level, and perhaps in the not too distant future, in the high schools. Not only is every mathematical problem solved, but eventually every mathematical problem is proved trivial. The quest for ultimate triviality is characteristic of the mathematical enterprise.
    • Gian-Carlo Rota, "The Pernicious Influence of Mathematics upon Philosophy" 18 Unconventional Essays on the Nature of Mathematics (2006) p. 223, ed. Reuben Hersh.
  • Mathematics is the study of analogies between analogies. All science is. Scientists want to show that things that don't look alike are really the same. That is one of their innermost Freudian motivations. In fact, that is what we mean by understanding.
  • Extension and abstraction without apparent direction or purpose is fundamental to the discipline. Applicability is not the reason we work, and plenty that is not applicable contributes to the beauty and magnificence of our subject.
    • Peter Rowlett, "The unplanned impact of mathematics", Nature 475, 2011, pp. 166-169.
  • Trying to solve real-world problems, researchers often discover that the tools they need were developed years, decades or even centuries earlier by mathematicians with no prospect of, or care for, applicability.
    • Peter Rowlett, "The unplanned impact of mathematics", Nature 475, 2011, pp. 166-169.
  • There is no way to guarantee in advance what pure mathematics will later find application. We can only let the process of curiosity and abstraction take place, let mathematicians obsessively take results to their logical extremes, leaving relevance far behind, and wait to see which topics turn out to be extremely useful. If not, when the challenges of the future arrive, we won’t have the right piece of seemingly pointless mathematics to hand.
    • Peter Rowlett, "The unplanned impact of mathematics", Nature 475, 2011, pp. 166-169.
  • Recreational mathematics is a type of play which is enjoyable and requires mathematical thinking or skills to engage with; typically, it is accessible to a wide range of people and can be effectively used to motivate engagement with and develop understanding of mathematical ideas or concepts.
  • Far from being frivolous, recreational mathematics cuts to the heart of being a mathematician and is deeply linked to development of graduate-level mathematical skills.
  • Pure mathematics consists entirely of assertions to the effect that, if such and such a proposition is true of anything, then such and such another proposition is true of that thing. It is essential not to discuss whether the first proposition is really true, and not to mention what the anything is, of which it is supposed to be true … If our hypothesis is about anything, and not about some one or more particular things, then our deductions constitute mathematics. Thus mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true. People who have been puzzled by the beginnings of mathematics will, I hope, find comfort in this definition, and will probably agree that it is accurate.
  • It seems to me now that mathematics is capable of an artistic excellence as great as that of any music, perhaps greater; not because the pleasure it gives (although very pure) is comparable, either in intensity or in the number of people who feel it, to that of music, but because it gives in absolute perfection that combination, characteristic of great art, of godlike freedom, with the sense of inevitable destiny; because, in fact, it constructs an ideal world where everything is perfect and yet true.
  • Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty—a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as poetry.
  • Mathematics takes us still further from what is human, into the region of absolute necessity, to which not only the world, but every possible world, must conform.
  • Pure Mathematics is the class of all propositions of the form “p implies q,” where p and q are propositions containing one or more variables, the same in the two propositions, and neither p nor q contains any constants except logical constants. And logical constants are all notions definable in terms of the following: Implication, the relation of a term to a class of which it is a member, the notion of such that, the notion of relation, and such further notions as may be involved in the general notion of propositions of the above form. In addition to these, mathematics uses a notion which is not a constituent of the propositions which it considers, namely the notion of truth.
    • Bertrand Russell, Principles of Mathematics (1903), Ch. I: Definition of Pure Mathematics, p. 3.
  • The fact that all Mathematics is Symbolic Logic is one of the greatest discoveries of our age; and when this fact has been established, the remainder of the principles of mathematics consists in the analysis of Symbolic Logic itself.
    • Bertrand Russell, Principles of Mathematics (1903), Ch. I: Definition of Pure Mathematics, p. 5.
  • I like mathematics because it is not human and has nothing particular to do with this planet or with the whole accidental universe – because, like Spinoza's God, it won't love us in return.
    • Bertrand Russell, in a letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell, March, 1912, as quoted in Gaither's Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (2012), p. 1318.
  • Ordinary language is totally unsuited for expressing what physics really asserts, since the words of everyday life are not sufficiently abstract. Only mathematics and mathematical logic can say as little as the physicist means to say.
  • Pi's face was masked, and it was understood that none could behold it and live. But piercing eyes looked out from the mask, inexorable, cold and enigmatic.
    • Bertrand Russell, "The Mathematician's Nightmare", Nightmares of Eminent Persons and Other Stories (1954).
  • In universities, mathematics is taught mainly to men who are going to teach mathematics to men who are going to teach mathematics to.... Sometimes, it is true, there is an escape from this treadmill. Archimedes used mathematics to kill Romans, Galileo to improve the Grand Duke of Tuscany's artillery, modern physicists (grown more ambitious) to exterminate the human race. It is usually on this account that the study of mathematics is commended to the general public as worthy of State support.


  • is a long way from infinity.
    • Daniel Shanks, Solved and Unsolved Problems in Number Theory, 3rd edition, chapter IV, page 217.
    • Computer calculation even up to a big number can't really say much about asymptotic behaviour.
  • It doesn't matter what mathematical things are: it's what they do that counts. Thus mathematics hovers uneasily between the real and the not-real; its meaning does not reside in formal abstractions, but neither is it tangible. is the great strength of mathematics—what I have elsewhere called its "unreal reality." Mathematics links the abstract world of mental concepts to the real world of physical things without being located in completely in either.
  • Math ain't about numbers! If you think math is about numbers, you probably think that Shakespeare is all about words. You probably think that dancing is all about shoes. You probably think that music is all about notes. Math ain't about numbers! Math is about logic, it's about beauty, it's about connections, it's about how you get from one place to another.
  • So, nat'ralists observe, a flea
    Hath smaller fleas that on him prey,
    And these have smaller still to bite 'em
    And so proceed ad infinitum.
    • Jonathan Swift, On Poetry: A Rhapsody.
      • Adapted in:
      • Big whirls have little whirls,
        That feed on their velocity;
        And little whirls have lesser whirls,
        And so on to viscosity.
      • Lewis Fry Richardson, Weather Prediction by Numerical Process (1922).


  • Researchers of the brain believe that mathematical truths make little sense to our mind, particularly..the examination of random outcomes.
    • Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (2001) Two: A Bizarre Accounting Method — George Will is No Solon: On Counterintuitive Truths — Humiliated in Debates.
  • Mathematics is principally a tool to meditate, rather than to compute.
    • Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (2001) Three: A Mathematical Meditation on History — Europlayboy Mathematics.
  • If a mathematician wishes to disparage the work of one of his colleagues, say, A, the most effective method he finds for doing this is to ask where the results can be applied. The hard pressed man, with his back against the wall, finally unearths the researches of another mathematician B as the locus of the application of his own results. If next B is plagued with a similar question, he will refer to another mathematician C. After a few steps of this kind we find ourselves referred back to the researches of A, and in this way the chain closes.
    • Alfred Tarski, "The Semantic Conception of Truth" (1952) reprinted in Semantics and the Philosophy of Language (1952) ed., L. Linsky.
  • The subject matter of mathematics has increased so rapidly and extensively that there is some element of truth in maintaining that mathematics is not so much a subject as a way of studying any subject, not so much a science as a way of life.
  • Today's scientists have substituted mathematics for experiments, and they wander off through equation after equation, and eventually build a structure which has no relation to reality.
    • Nikola Tesla, "Radio Power Will Revolutionize the World", in Modern Mechanics and Inventions (July 1934).
  • One occasionally hears the question, is mathematics invented or discovered?—or an answer. As David Wells points out... both answers... are appropriate. Once a game is invented, the consequences are discovered... as it would require a divine intelligence to know just from the rules how a complex game could best be played. When in practice rules are changed, one makes adjustments that will not alter the consequences too dramatically. Analogously, axioms are usually only adjusted and the altered consequences discovered.
    • Robert Spencer David Thomas, "Mathematics is Not a Game But..." (January, 2009) The Mathematical Intelligencer Vol. 31, No. 1, pp. 4-8. Also published in The Best Writing on Mathematics 2010 (2011) pp. 79-88.
  • I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.
  • Mathematics is not about numbers, equations, computations, or algorithms: it is about understanding.
    • Bill Thurston, quoted in Mathematicians: An Outer View of the Inner World (2009).
  • The product of mathematics is clarity and understanding. Not theorems, by themselves. Is there, for example any real reason that even such famous results as Fermat's Last Theorem, or the Poincaré conjecture, really matter? Their real importance is not in their specific statements, but their role in challenging our understanding, presenting challenges that led to mathematical developments that increased our understanding.
  • For many individuals, as they approach the limit of their abilities, mathematics loses its fun aspect. When a topic is undeveloped, it is recreational to many. As the theory is developed and becomes more abstract, fewer persons find it recreational.
    • Charles W. Trigg, in "What is Recreational Mathematics? Definition by example: paradigms of topics, people and publications", Mathematics Magazine 51(1), 1978, pp. 18-21.
  • Mathematical reasoning may be regarded rather schematically as the exercise of a combination of... intuition and ingenuity. The activity of the intuition consists in making spontaneous judgements which are not the result of conscious trains of reasoning... The exercise of ingenuity in mathematics consists in aiding the intuition through suitable arrangements of propositions, and perhaps geometrical figures or drawings. ...We are leaving out of account that most important faculty which distinguishes topics of interest from others; in fact, we are regarding the function of the mathematician as simply to determine the truth or falsity of propositions.
    • Alan Turing, "Systems of Logic Based on Ordinals" (1938) in Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society (1939) Series 2, Vol. 45.


  • Mathematics, and perhaps other sciences like physics, have the mission to prepare or improve the human brain, be it the brain of an individual or the collective brain of mankind, for developments yet to come. Just as animals play... in preparation for situations arising later in their lives, it may be that mathematics... is a collection of games. ...may be the only way to change the individual or collective human mind to prepare it for a future that no one can yet imagine. ...[L]ife appears inter alia as a sequence of chemical games... between individuals, or between groups... essentially of a mathematical nature... not... the von Neumann-Morgenstern theory of games, but more general games in the widest sense. This has perhaps... a direct biological role... a book... by... Manfred Eigen, ...Das Spiel (The Game) ...describes a number of mathematical games or puzzles and discusses the games molecules... play with each other. ...Conway's Game of Life ...we have seen ...starting with a simple pattern and simple recursive rules can lead to unbelievably complicated configurations... that... defy analysis a priori.
    • Stanislaw Ulam, Science, Computers, and People: From the Tree of Mathematics (1986) Ch. 13 "Further Applications of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences" p. 153.
  • In many cases, mathematics is an escape from reality. The mathematician finds his own monastic niche and happiness in pursuits that are disconnected from external affairs. Some practice it as if using a drug. Chess sometimes plays a similar role. In their unhappiness over the events of this world, some immerse themselves in a kind of self-sufficiency in mathematics. (Some have engaged in it for this reason alone.)
    • Stanislaw Ulam, Adventures of a Mathematician (3rd ed, 1991) Ch. 6 "Transition And Crisis" p. 120.
  • What exactly is mathematics? Many have tried but nobody has really succeeded in defining mathematics; it is always something else. ...[P]eople know that it deals with numbers and figures, with patterns, relations, operations, and that its formal procedures involving axioms, proofs, lemmas, theorems have not changed since the time of Archimedes. ... that it purports to form the foundations of all rational thought. ...The aesthetic side of mathematics has been of overwhelming importance throughout its growth. It is not so much whether a theorem is useful that matters, but how elegant it is. ...One can ...look conversely at ...the homely side of mathematics ...having to be punctilious ...having to make sure of every step. ...[O]ne cannot stop at drawing with a big, wide brush; all the details have to be filled in ...Mathematicians ...fool themselves ...when they think their main business is to prove theorems without at least indicating why they may be important. If left entirely to the aesthetic criteria, doesn't it compound the mystery? ...[I]n the decades to come there will be more understanding ...of the degree of beauty, though ...the criteria may have shifted ...[to] a super beauty in unanalyzable higher levels. ...It has to appeal to connections with other theories of the external world or to the history of the development of the human brain, or else it is purely aesthetic and very subjective in the sense that music is. ...[E]ven the quality of music will be analyzable mathematizing the idea of analogy.
    • Stanislaw Ulam, Adventures of a Mathematician (3rd ed, 1991) Ch. 15 "Random Reflections on Mathematics and Science" p. 273-276.
  • Mathematics may be a way of developing physically, that is anatomically, new connections in the brain.
    • Stanislaw Ulam, Adventures of a Mathematician (3rd ed, 1991) Chapter 15 "Random Reflections on Mathematics and Science" p. 277.


  • Like the crests on the heads of peacocks, like the gems on the hoods of the cobras, mathematics is at the top of the Vedanga sastras.
    • Vedanga Jyotisa, 4


  • The Koch Curve - Triangles outside triangles outside triangles ad infinitum the Koch curve goes, it's infinitely infinitesimal, this self-similarity shows. A length too long to measure, an area too small to see, what else can this contradiction be, behold fractal geometry.
    • Bernt Wahl, The Adventures of the Fractal Explorer, about the beauty of Fractal Geometry.
  • It is but right... to apprise you that, diffident of my own decision, the favorable opinion I favor of your performance is founded rather on the explicit and ample testimonies of Gentlemen confessedly possessed of great mathematical knowledge, than on the partial and incompetent attention I have been able to pay to it myself.—But I must be permitted to remark that the subject, in my estimation, holds a higher rank in the literary scale than you are disposed to allow.—The science of figures, to a certain degree, is not only indispensably requisite in every walk of civilised life; but investigation of mathematical truths accustoms the mind to method and correctness in reasoning, and is an employment peculiarly worthy of rational beings. In a clouded state of existence, where so many things appear precarious to the bewildered research, it is here that the rational faculties find a firm foundation to rest upon. From the high ground of mathematical and philosophical demonstration, we are insensibly led to far nobler speculations and sublimer meditations.
  • I enjoy being surprised by mathematics and its intrinsic difficulty. The moment I enjoy best is when the pieces of the puzzle fall into one coherent whole.
    • Katrin Wendland, Women in Mathematics Throughout Europe. A Gallery of Portraits (2016).
  • By relieving the brain of all unnecessary work, a good notation sets it free to concentrate on more advanced problems, and in effect increases... mental power... Probably nothing in the modern world would have more astonished a Greek mathematician than to learn that, under the influence of compulsory education, the whole population of Western Europe, from the highest to the lowest, could perform the operation of division for the largest numbers. This fact would have seemed to him a sheer impossibility.
  • Nothing is more impressive than the fact that as mathematics withdrew increasingly into the upper regions of ever greater extremes of abstract thought, it returned back to earth with a corresponding growth of importance for the analysis of concrete fact. ...The paradox is now fully established that the utmost abstractions are the true weapons with which to control our thought of concrete fact.
  • The only reality mathematical concepts have is as cultural elements or artifacts.
  • A mathematician is bound to be horrified by my mathematical comments, since he has always been trained to avoid indulging in thoughts and doubts of the kind I develop. He has learned to regard them as something contemptible and […] he has acquired a revulsion from them as infantile. That is to say, I trot out all the problems that a child learning arithmetic, etc., finds difficult, the problems that education represses without solving. I say to those repressed doubts: you are quite correct, go on asking, demand clarification!
  • There is no religious denomination in which so much sin has been committed through the misuse of metaphorical expressions as in mathematics.


  • I like to find out as much about a mathematical object as possible, just as you might want to understand a person as well as possible.
    • Oksana Yakimova, Women in Mathematics Throughout Europe. A Gallery of Portraits (2016). Construction in mathematics
  • Math is perfect (in principle), but mathematicians are not (because they are humans), hence the mathematics that (human) mathematicians do is influenced by the weltanschauung of the people around them.
    • Doron Zeilberger "Computerized Deconstruction". Appeared in Adv. Appl. Math. v. 31 (2003), 532-543.

Quotes that mention mathematics



  • Prometheus: ...
    List rather to the deeds
    I did for mortals; how being fools before,
    I made them wise and true in aim of soul. ...
    But teaching you the intention of my gifts,
    How first beholding, they beheld in vain,
    And hearing, heard not, but, like shapes in dreams,
    Mixed all things wildly down the tedious time,
    Nor knew to build a house against the sun...
    But lived like silly ants, beneath the ground
    In hollow caves unsunned. There, came to them
    No steadfast sign of winter, nor of spring...
    But blindly and lawlessly they did all things,
    Until I taught them how the stars do rise
    And set in mystery, and devised for them
    Number, the inducer of philosophies,
    The synthesis of Letters, and, beside,
    The artificer of all things, Memory,
    That sweet Muse-mother.


  • Susan: What is algebra exactly; is it those three-cornered things?
    Phoebe: It is x minus y equals z plus y and things like that. And all the time you are saying they are equal, you feel in your heart, why should they be.
  • I can’t help it, gas escapes from my fundament on the least pretext, it’s hard not to mention it now and then, however great my distaste. One day I counted them. Three hundred and fifteen farts in nineteen hours, or an average of over sixteen farts an hour. After all it’s not excessive. Four farts every fifteen minutes. It’s nothing. Not even one fart every four minutes. It’s unbelievable. Damn it, I hardly fart at all, I should never have mentioned it. Extraordinary how mathematics help you to know yourself.
  • They who study mathematiks only to fix their minds, and render them the steadyer to apply to all other things, as there are many who profess to do, are as wise as those who think by rowing boats, to learn to swim.


  • Advanced mathematics opens doors to many fields of study. More importantly, it expands the way you think.
  • Yeah, Silver and his math are jokes, because math has a liberal bias. After all, math is the reason Mitt Romney's tax plan doesn't add up.
  • I was an atheist, finding no reason to postulate the existence of any truths outside of mathematics, physics and chemistry. But then I went to medical school, and encountered life and death issues at the bedsides of my patients. Challenged by one of those patients, who asked "What do you believe, doctor?", I began searching for answers.
    • Francis Collins, a geneticist who led the U.S. government’s effort to decipher the human genome (DNA).
  • Magick, mysticism, and the mathematics are triplets.


  • A man with all the algebra in the world is often only an ass when he knows nothing else. Perhaps in ten years society may derive advantage from the curves which these visionary algebraists will have laboriously squared. I congratulate posterity beforehand. But to tell you the truth I see nothing but a scientific extravagance in all these calculations. That which is neither useful nor agreeable is worthless. And as for useful things, they have all been discovered; and to those which are agreeable, I hope that good taste will not admit algebra among them.
  • As to your Newton, I confess I do not understand his void and his gravity; I admit he has demonstrated the movement of the heavenly bodies with more exactitude than his forerunners; but you will admit it is an absurdity to maintain the existence of Nothing.
  • Euler calculated the force of the wheels necessary to raise the water in a reservoir … My mill was carried out geometrically and could not raise a drop of water fifty yards from the reservoir. Vanity of vanities! Vanity of geometry!
  • Measuring is one of the more practical uses of mathematics, but the ability and desire to measure aren't always wrapped up with the need to know useful answers.
    • Kitty Ferguson, Measuring the Universe: Our Historic Quest to Chart the Horizons of, Space and Time, Prologue (p. 3), Walker & Company (1999).
  • Letting numbers take us where we can't go in person — whether that's to the top of a windmill or to the origin and borders of the universe — has been and still is one of humankind's favorite intellectual adventures.
    • Kitty Ferguson, Measuring the Universe: Our Historic Quest to Chart the Horizons of, Space and Time, Prologue (p. 3), Walker & Company (1999).
  • The Devil: Okay, boys...tonight's homework. Algebra. Xn + Yn = Zn. You're never gonna use that, are you? Imperialism and the First World War. What was done is done. No point thinking about it now. German, French, Spanish. Ja, ja, oui, oui, s, s. It's nonsense. Everyone speaks English anyway. And if they don't, they ought to. So, no homework tonight. But I want you to watch a lot of TV, don't neglect your video games...and I'll see you in the morning. Shall we say 10:00, 10:30? No point in getting up too early.
  • Mathematics is really a liberal art if you look at it from a slightly different point of view.
    • Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs Lost Interview - A must watch for any entrepeneur (1990).
  • The mathematical genius can only carry on from the point which mathematical knowledge within his culture has already reached. Thus if Einstein had been born into a primitive tribe which was unable to count beyond three, life-long application to mathematics probably would not have carried him beyond the development of a decimal system based on fingers and toes.


  • So far, all of reality seems to be described by exquisite, elegant mathematical equations. We can’t stop now – it’s got to be beautiful all the way down!
  • Poetry is a sort of inspired mathematics, which gives us equations, not for abstract figures, triangles, squares, and the like, but for the human emotions. If one has a mind which inclines to magic rather than science, one will prefer to speak of these equations as spells or incantations; it sounds more arcane, mysterious, recondite.
  • Halakhic man, well furnished with rules, judgments, and fundamental principles, draws near the world with an a priori relation. His approach begins with an ideal creation and concludes with a real one. To whom may he be compared? To a mathematician who fashions an ideal world and then uses it for the purpose of establishing a relationship between it and the real world. ... The essence of the Halakhah, which was received from God, consists in creating an ideal world and cognizing the relationship between that ideal world and our concrete environment.
  • I had been to school most all the time and could spell and read and write just a little, and could say the multiplication table up to six times seven is thirty-five, and I don't reckon I could ever get any further than that if I was to live forever. I don't take no stock in mathematics anyway.
  • School children and students who love God should never say: “For my part I like mathematics”; “I like French”; “I like Greek.” They should learn to like all these subjects, because all of them develop that faculty of attention which, directed toward God, is the very substance of prayer.
  • The number 2 thought of by one man cannot be added to the number 2 thought of by another man so us to make up the number 4.


  • The good Christian should beware of mathematicians, and all those who make empty prophesies. The danger already exists that the mathematicians have made a covenant with the devil to darken the spirit and to confine man in the bonds of Hell.
    • Misattributed to Augustine of Hippo. This is a very bad mistranslation of De genesi ad litteram libri XII, book 2, 17.37. 'Mathematici' in Latin means astrologers, not mathematicians, and the book makes repeated attacks on astrology. The text really reads: For which reason both astrologers and those impiously making divinings, as the truth says emphatically, must be avoided by the good Christian, lest after making a pact of agreement they entangle their soul in a hidden partnership with demons.

See also


Notes and references

  1. No likeness or description of Euclid's physical appearance made during his lifetime survived antiquity. Therefore, Euclid's depiction in works of art depends on the artist's imagination (see Euclid).
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