Stanislaw Ulam

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Stanislaw Ulam
It is most important in creative science not to give up. If you are an optimist you will be willing to "try" more than if you are a pessimist.

Stanisław Marcin Ulam (April 13, 1909May 13, 1984) was a Polish-American mathematician who participated in the Manhattan Project and proposed the Teller–Ulam design of thermonuclear weapons. He also invented nuclear pulse propulsion and developed a number of mathematical tools in number theory, set theory, ergodic theory, and algebraic topology.

Quotes[edit]

  • The mathematicians know a great deal about very little and the physicists very little about a great deal.
  • Whatever is worth saying, can be stated in fifty words or less.
    • as quoted by Gian-Carlo Rota in Words spoken at the memorial service for S. M. Ulam (The Lodge, Los Alamos, New Mexico, May 17, 1984), published in The Mathematical Intelligencer, Volume 6, Number 4 / December, 1984
  • Do not lose your faith. A mighty fortress is our mathematics. Mathematics will rise to the challenge, as it always has.
    • In Heinz R. Pagels, The Dreams of Reason: The Computer and the Rise of the Sciences of Complexity, Ch. 3, p. 94; as quoted in Gaither's Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (Springer, 2008), p. 861

Adventures of a Mathematician - Third Edition (1991)[edit]

  • Sometimes I feel that a more rational explanation for all that has happened during my lifetime is that I am still only thirteen years old, reading Jules Verne or H. G. Wells, and have fallen asleep.
    • Preface To the 1983 Edition, p. xxvii
Ivy Mike
It is still an unending source of surprise for me to see how a few scribbles on a blackboard or on a sheet of paper could change the course of human affairs.
  • It is still an unending source of surprise for me to see how a few scribbles on a blackboard or on a sheet of paper could change the course of human affairs.
    • Prologue, p. 5
  • I thought that the description of Don Quixote's fight with the windmills the funniest thing imaginable.
    • Chapter 1, Childhood, p. 12
  • Thinking very hard about the same problem for several hours can produce a severe fatigue, close to a breakdown. I never really experienced a breakdown, but have felt "strange inside" two or three times during my life.
    • Chapter 2, Student Years, p. 34
  • For many years I was the youngest among my mathematical friends. It makes me melancholy to realize that I now have become the oldest in most groups of scientists.
    • Chapter 2, Student Years, p. 37
  • Ada came from Lwów. She was a very good looking girl who was studying mathematics at the University of Geneva. For a few years I had an off-and-on romance with her.
    • Chapter 2, Student Years, p. 45 (On Ada Halpern...)
  • It was not so much that I was doing mathematics, but rather that mathematics had taken possession of me.
    • Chapter 3, Travels Abroad, p. 52
  • It is most important in creative science not to give up. If you are an optimist you will be willing to "try" more than if you are a pessimist.
    • Chapter 3, Travels Abroad, p. 55
  • As a mathematician, von Neumann was quick, brilliant, efficient, and enormously broad in scientific interests beyond mathematics itself. He knew his technical abilities; his virtuosity in following complicated reasoning and his insights were supreme; yet he lacked absolute self confidence.
    • Chapter 4, Princeton Days, p. 76
  • With sixty professors there are roughly eighteen hundred pairs of professors. Out of that many pairs it was not surprising that there were some whose members did not like one another.
    • Chapter 5, Harvard Years, p. 91
Project Orion
In mathematics, as in physics, so much depends on chance, on a propitious moment.
  • In mathematics, as in physics, so much depends on chance, on a propitious moment.
    • Chapter 5, Harvard Years, p. 95
  • I am always amazed how much a certain facility with a special and apparently narrow technique can accomplish.
    • Chapter 5, Harvard Years, p. 96
  • There may be such a thing as habitual luck. People who are said to be lucky at cards probably have certain hidden talents for those games in which skill plays a role. It is like hidden parameters in physics, this ability that does not surface and that I like to call "habitual luck".
    • Chapter 6, Transition And Crisis, p. 119
  • 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.
    • Chapter 6, Transition And Crisis, p. 120
  • Thanks to my memory, which enabled me to quote Latin and to discuss Greek and Roman civilization, it became obvious to some of my colleagues in other fields that I was interested in things outside mathematics. This lead quickly to very pleasant relationships.
    • Chapter 7, The University of Wisconsin, p. 125
  • Very soon I discovered that if one gets a feeling for no more than a dozen other radiation and nuclear constants, one can imagine the subatomic world almost tangibly, and manipulate the picture dimensionally and qualitatively, before calculating more precise relationships.
    • Chapter 8, Los Alamos, p. 148
  • The story that Dick Feynman could open safes whose combinations had been forgotten by their owners is true.
    • Chapter 8, Los Alamos, p. 169
  • I was still very hopeful that much work lay ahead of me. Perhaps because much of what I had worked on or thought about had not yet been put into writing, I felt I still had things in reserve. Given this optimistic nature, I feel this way even now when I am past sixty.
    • Chapter 10, Back At Los Alamos, p. 208
Ulam Spiral
What exactly is mathematics? Many have tried but nobody has really succeeded in defining mathematics; it is always something else.
  • Even the simplest calculation in the purest mathematics can have terrible consequences. Without the invention of the infinitesimal calculus most of our technology would have been impossible. Should we say therefore that calculus is bad?
    • Chapter 11, The 'Super', p. 222
  • According to recent studies, at least one star out of three is multiple.
    • Chapter 13, Government Science, p. 258
  • By an incredible coincidence, Gamow and Edward Condon, who had discovered simultaneously and independently the explanation of radioactivity (one in Russia, the other in this country), came to spend the the last ten years of their lives within a hundred yards of each other in Boulder.
    • Chapter 14, Professor Again, p. 267
  • What exactly is mathematics? Many have tried but nobody has really succeeded in defining mathematics; it is always something else.
    • Chapter 15, Random Reflections on Mathematics and Science, p. 273-274
  • In its evolution from a more primitive nervous system, the brain, as an organ with ten or more billion neurons and many more connections between them must have changed and grown as a result of many accidents.
    • Chapter 15, Random Reflections on Mathematics and Science, p. 274
Ulam conjecture
Thoughts are steered in different ways.
  • It is not so much whether a theorem is useful that matters, but how elegant it is.
    • Chapter 15, Random Reflections on Mathematics and Science, p. 274
  • As one sharpens a knife on a whetstone, the brain can be sharpened on dull objects of thought. Every form of assiduous thinking has its value.
    • Chapter 15, Random Reflections on Mathematics and Science, p. 278
  • Thoughts are steered in different ways.
    • Chapter 15, Random Reflections on Mathematics and Science, p. 275
  • I am turned off when I see only formulas and symbols, and little text.
    • Chapter 15, Random Reflections on Mathematics and Science, p. 275
  • Mathematics may be a way of developing physically, that is anatomically, new connections in the brain.
    • Chapter 15, Random Reflections on Mathematics and Science, p. 277

Quotes about Stanislaw Ulam[edit]

  • With his unusual looks and magnetic green eyes, he always seemed to stand out in a crowd. I remember a party years later when Georgia O'Keefe pointed an imperious finger in his direction and exclaimed "Who is that man?"
    • Mrs. Françoise Ulam, Adventures of a Mathematician, Postscript To Adventures, p. 306
  • Engraved on my memory is the day when I found him at noon staring staring intensely out of a window in our living room with a strange expression on his face. Peering unseeing into the garden, he said "I found a way to make it work." "What work?" I asked. "The Super" he replied. "It is a totally different scheme, and it will change the course of history."
    • Mrs. Françoise Ulam, Adventures of a Mathematician, Postscript To Adventures, p. 311

External links[edit]

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