Carl Friedrich Gauss
From Quotes
The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears this is true.
James Branch CabellJohann Carl Friedrich Gauss (30 April 1777 – 23 February 1855) was a German mathematician, astronomer and physicist.
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- The problem of distinguishing prime numbers from composite numbers and of resolving the latter into their prime factors is known to be one of the most important and useful in arithmetic. It has engaged the industry and wisdom of ancient and modern geometers to such an extent that it would be superfluous to discuss the problem at length... Further, the dignity of the science itself seems to require that every possible means be explored for the solution of a problem so elegant and so celebrated.
- Disquisitiones Arithmeticae (1801) Article 329
- The enchanting charms of this sublime science reveal themselves in all their beauty only to those who have the courage to go deeply into it. But when a person of that sex, that, because of our mores and our prejudices, has to encounter infinitely more obstacles and difficulties than men in familiarizing herself with these thorny research problems, nevertheless succeeds in surmounting these obstacles and penetrating their most obscure parts, she must without doubt have the noblest courage, quite extraordinary talents and superior genius.
- Letter to Sophie Germain (30 April 1807) ([...]; les charmes enchanteux de cette sublime science ne se décèlent dans toute leur beauté qu'à ceux qui ont le courage de l'approfondir. Mais lorsqu'une personne de ce sexe, qui, par nos meurs [sic] et par nos préjugés, doit rencontrer infiniment plus d'obstacles et de difficultés, que les hommes, à se familiariser avec ces recherches épineuses, sait néanmoins franchir ces entraves et pénétrer ce qu'elles ont de plus caché, il faut sans doute, qu'elle ait le plus noble courage, des talents tout à fait extraordinaires, le génie superieur.)
- It is not knowledge, but the act of learning, not possession but the act of getting there, which grants the greatest enjoyment. When I have clarified and exhausted a subject, then I turn away from it, in order to go into darkness again. The never-satisfied man is so strange; if he has completed a structure, then it is not in order to dwell in it peacefully, but in order to begin another. I imagine the world conqueror must feel thus, who, after one kingdom is scarcely conquered, stretches out his arms for others.
- Letter to Farkas Bolyai (1808)
- We must admit with humility that, while number is purely a product of our minds, space has a reality outside our minds, so that we cannot completely prescribe its properties a priori.
- Letter to Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel (1830)
- To praise it would amount to praising myself. For the entire content of the work... coincides almost exactly with my own meditations which have occupied my mind for the past thirty or thirty-five years .
- Letter to Farkas Bolyai, on his son János Bolyai's 1832 publishings on non-Euclidean geometry.
- I will add that I have recently received from Hungary a little paper on non-Euclidean geometry in which I rediscover all my own ideas and results worked out with great elegance... The writer is a very young Austrian officer, the son of one of my early friends, with whom I often discussed the subject in 1798, although my ideas were at that time far removed from the development and maturity which they have received through the original reflections of this young man. I consider the young geometer J. Bolyai a genius of the first rank.
- Letter to Gerling (1832)
- Mathematics is the queen of the sciences.
- As quoted in Gauss zum Gedächtniss (1856) by Wolfgang Sartorius von Waltershausen; Variants: Mathematics is the queen of sciences and number theory the queen of mathematics. She often condescends to render service to astronomy and other natural sciences, but in all relations she is entitled to the first rank.
Mathematics is the queen of the sciences and number theory is the queen of mathematics. ( Die Mathematik ist die Königin der Wissenschaften und die Zahlentheorie ist die Königin der Mathematik. )
- As quoted in Gauss zum Gedächtniss (1856) by Wolfgang Sartorius von Waltershausen; Variants: Mathematics is the queen of sciences and number theory the queen of mathematics. She often condescends to render service to astronomy and other natural sciences, but in all relations she is entitled to the first rank.
- It may be true, that men, who are mere mathematicians, have certain specific shortcomings, but that is not the fault of mathematics, for it is equally true of every other exclusive occupation. So there are mere philologists, mere jurists, mere soldiers, mere merchants, etc. To such idle talk it might further be added: that whenever a certain exclusive occupation is coupled with specific shortcomings, it is likewise almost certainly divorced from certain other shortcomings.
- Gauss-Schumacher Briefwechsel (1862)
- Ask her to wait a moment— I am almost done.
- When told, while working, that his wife was dying. As quoted in Men of Mathematics (1937) by E. T. Bell
- I have had my results for a long time: but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them.
- The Mind and the Eye (1954) by A. Arber
- If others would but reflect on mathematical truths as deeply and as continuously as I have, they would make my discoveries.
- The World of Mathematics (1956) Edited by J. R. Newman
- I confess that Fermat's Theorem as an isolated proposition has very little interest for me, because I could easily lay down a multitude of such propositions, which one could neither prove nor dispose of.
- A reply to Olbers' 1816 attempt to entice him to work on Fermat's Theorem. As quoted in The World of Mathematics (1956) Edited by J. R. Newman
- There are problems to whose solution I would attach an infinitely greater importance than to those of mathematics, for example touching ethics, or our relation to God, or concerning our destiny and our future; but their solution lies wholly beyond us and completely outside the province of science.
- As quoted in The World of Mathematics (1956) Edited by J. R. Newman
- Finally, two days ago, I succeeded— not on account of my hard efforts, but by the grace of the Lord. Like a sudden flash of lightning, the riddle was solved. I am unable to say what was the conducting thread that connected what I previously knew with what made my success possible.
- Mathematical Circles Squared (1972) by Howard W. Eves
- A great part of its theories derives an additional charm from the peculiarity that important propositions, with the impress of simplicity on them, are often easily discovered by induction, and yet are of so profound a character that we cannot find the demonstrations till after many vain attempts; and even then, when we do succeed, it is often by some tedious and artificial process, while the simple methods may long remain concealed.
- On higher arithmetic. Mathematical Circles Adieu (1977) by Howard W. Eves
- I am coming more and more to the conviction that the necessity of our geometry cannot be demonstrated, at least neither by, nor for, the human intellect. . . Geometry should be ranked, not with arithmetic, which is purely aprioristic, but with mechanics.
- As quoted in Solid Shape' ' (1990) by Jan J. Koenderink
- You know that I write slowly. This is chiefly because I am never satisfied until I have said as much as possible in a few words, and writing briefly takes far more time than writing at length.
- As quoted in Calculus Gems (1992) by George F. Simmons
- I mean the word proof not in the sense of the lawyers, who set two half proofs equal to a whole one, but in the sense of a mathematician, where half proof = 0, and it is demanded for proof that every doubt becomes impossible.
- As quoted in Calculus Gems (1992) by George F. Simmons
Attributed
- God does arithmetic.
- If others would but reflect on mathematical truths as deeply and as continuously as I have, they would make my discoveries.
- Life stands before me like an eternal spring with new and brilliant clothes.
- On his engagement to his first wife.
- Mathematicians stand on each other's shoulders.
- The total number of Dirichlet's publications is not large: jewels are not weighed on a grocery scale.
- When a philosopher says something that is true then it is trivial. When he says something that is not trivial then it is false.
- I had always regarded my situation in w:Brunswick as interimistic, that it would have to change sooner or later. ("Meine Lage in Braunschweig hatte ich von jeher nur als eine interimistische betrachtet, die sich über kurz oder lang verändern müßte.", 20 May 1808)
Quotes of others about Gauss
- According to his frequently expressed view, Gauss considered the three dimensions of space as specific peculiarities of the human soul; people, which are unable to comprehend this, he designated in his humorous mood by the name Bœotians. We could imagine ourselves, he said, as beings which are conscious of but two dimensions; higher beings might look at us in a like manner, and continuing jokingly, he said that he had laid aside certain problems which, when in a higher state of being, he hoped to investigate geometrically. ~ Wolfgang Sartorius von Waltershausen in Gauss zum Gedächtniss (1856)
The Music of the Primes (2003)
Quotations about some of the work of Gauss from a book about Prime Numbers by Marcus du Sautoy, professor of mathematics at Oxford University
- Gauss liked to call [number theory] 'the Queen of Mathematics'. For Gauss, the jewels in the crown were the primes, numbers which had fascinated and teased generations of mathematicians.
- Armed with his prime number tables, Gauss began his quest. As he looked at the proportion of numbers that were prime, he found that when he counted higher and higher a pattern started to emerge. Despite the randomness of these numbers, a stunning regularity seemed to be looming out of the mist.
- The revelation that the graph appears to climb so smoothly, even though the primes themselves are so unpredictable, is one of the most miraculous in mathematics and represents one of the high points in the story of the primes. On the back page of his book of logarithms, Gauss recorded the discovery of his formula for the number of primes up to N in terms of the logarithm function. Yet despite the importance of the discovery, Gauss told no one what he had found. The most the world heard of his revelation were the cryptic words, 'You have no idea how much poetry there is in a table of logarithms.'
- Maybe we have become so hung up on looking at the primes from Gauss's and Riemann's perspective that what we are missing is simply a different way to understand these enigmatic numbers. Gauss gave an estimate for the number of primes, Riemann predicted that the guess is at worst the square root of N off its mark, Littlewood showed that you can't do better than this. Maybe there is an alternative viewpoint that no one has found because we have become so culturally attached to the house that Gauss built.
External links
- Carl Friedrich Gauss, comprehensive site including biography and list of his accomplishments
- Carl Friedrich Gauss at Planet Math
- MacTutor biography of Gauss
- Carl Frederick Gauss, site by Gauss' great-great-great granddaughter, including a scanned letter written to his son, Eugene, and links to his genealogy.
- Gauss and His Children, site for Gauss researchers and descendants of Gauss.
- Gauss, general information, submit your site about Gauss.