J. E. Littlewood

1885 - 1977

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 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 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

A Quote by J. E. Littlewood on habits and needs

A precisian professor had the habit of saying: "... quartic polynomial ax^4+bx^3+cx^2+dx+e , where e need not be the base of the natural logarithms."

J. E. Littlewood (1885 - 1977)

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

Contributed by: Zaady

A Quote by J. E. Littlewood on failure, needs, people, potential, reason, and teaching

I constantly meet people who are doubtful, generally without due reason, about their potential capacity [as mathematicians]. The first test is whether you got anything out of geometry. To have disliked or failed to get on with other [mathematical] subjects need mean nothing; much drill and drudgery is unavoidable before they can get started, and bad teaching can make them unintelligible even to a born mathematician.

J. E. Littlewood (1885 - 1977)

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

Contributed by: Zaady

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