J. E. Littlewood

1885 - 1977

A Quote by J. E. Littlewood on force

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It is possible for a mathematician to be "too strong" for a given occasion. He forces through, where another might be driven to a different, and possible more fruitful, approach. (So a rock climber might force a dreadful crack, instead of finding a subtle and delicate route.)

J. E. Littlewood (1885 - 1977)

Source: A Mathematician's Miscellany, Methuen and Co. ltd., 1953.

Contributed by: Zaady

A Quote by J. E. Littlewood on chance, danger, learning, mathematics, and past

It is true that I should have been surprised in the past to learn that Professor Hardy had joined the Oxford Group. But one could not say the adverse chance was 1:10. Mathematics is a dangerous profession; an appreciable proportion of us go mad, and then this particular event would be quite likely.

J. E. Littlewood (1885 - 1977)

Source: A Mathematician's Miscellany, Methuen and Co. ltd., 1953.

Contributed by: Zaady

A Quote by J. E. Littlewood on competence

The infinitely competent can be uncreative.

J. E. Littlewood (1885 - 1977)

Source: H. Eves Mathematical Circles Squared, Boston: Prindle, Weber and Schmidt, 1972.

Contributed by: Zaady

A Quote by J. E. Littlewood

The surprising thing about this paper is that a man who could write it would.

J. E. Littlewood (1885 - 1977)

Source: A Mathematician's Miscellany, Methuen Co. Ltd., 1953.

Contributed by: Zaady

A Quote by J. E. Littlewood on danger, good, ideas, interest, justice, problems, questions, seriousness, and theory

The theory of numbers is particularly liable to the accusation that some of its problems are the wrong sort of questions to ask. I do not myself think the danger is serious; either a reasonable amount of concentration leads to new ideas or methods of obvious interest, or else one just leaves the problem alone. "Perfect numbers" certainly never did any good, but then they never did any particular harm.

J. E. Littlewood (1885 - 1977)

Source: A Mathematician's Miscellany, Methuen Co. Ltd., 1953.

Contributed by: Zaady

A Quote by J. E. Littlewood on business, experience, idealism, practice, schools, theory, and world

We come finally, however, to the relation of the ideal theory to real world, or "real" probability. If he is consistent a man of the mathematical school washes his hands of applications. To someone who wants them he would say that the ideal system runs parallel to the usual theory: "If this is what you want, try it: it is not my business to justify application of the system; that can only be done by philosophizing; I am a mathematician". In practice he is apt to say: "try this; if it works that will justify it". But now he is not merely philosophizing; he is committing the characteristic fallacy. Inductive experience that the system works is not evidence.

J. E. Littlewood (1885 - 1977)

Source: A Mathematician's Miscellany, Methuen Co. Ltd, 1953.

Contributed by: Zaady

A Quote by J. E. Littlewood on belief, certainty, change, practice, research, teaching, and trouble

In passing, I firmly believe that research should be offset by a certain amount of teaching, if only as a change from the agony of research. The trouble, however, I freely admit, is that in practice you get either no teaching, or else far too much.

J. E. Littlewood (1885 - 1977)

Source: "The Mathematician's Art of Work" in Béla Bollobás (ed.) Littlewood's Miscellany, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Contributed by: Zaady

A Quote by J. E. Littlewood on accidents, argument, chance, conscience, dawn, education, identity, problems, and wishes

In presenting a mathematical argument the great thing is to give the educated reader the chance to catch on at once to the momentary point and take details for granted: his successive mouthfuls should be such as can be swallowed at sight; in case of accidents, or in case he wishes for once to check in detail, he should have only a clearly circumscribed little problem to solve (e.g. to check an identity: two trivialities omitted can add up to an impasse). The unpractised writer, even after the dawn of a conscience, gives him no such chance; before he can spot the point he has to tease his way through a maze of symbols of which not the tiniest suffix can be skipped.

J. E. Littlewood (1885 - 1977)

Source: A Mathematician's Miscellany, Methuen Co. Ltd., 1953.

Contributed by: Zaady

A Quote by J. E. Littlewood on good, jokes, mathematics, and mediocrity

A good mathematical joke is better, and better mathematics, than a dozen mediocre papers.

J. E. Littlewood (1885 - 1977)

Source: A Mathematician's Miscellany, Methuen and Co. ltd., 1953.

Contributed by: Zaady

A Quote by J. E. Littlewood on learning

A linguist would be shocked to learn that if a set is not closed this does not mean that it is open, or again that "E is dense in E" does not mean the same thing as "E is dense in itself".

J. E. Littlewood (1885 - 1977)

Source: A Mathematician's Miscellany, Methuen Co. Ltd., 1953.

Contributed by: Zaady

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