Quotations about   mathematics

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In mathematics, you don’t understand things, you just get used to them.

John von Neumann (1903-1957) Hungarian-American mathematician, physicist, inventor, polymath [János "Johann" Lajos Neumann]
(Attributed)

The primary source for this comes from Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics (1979), in a footnote on p. 208, related to von Neumann's time working on the H-bomb.

Dr. Felix Smith, Head of Molecular Physics, Stanford Research Institute, once related to me the true story of a physicist friend who worked at Los Alamos after World War II. Seeking help on a difficult problem, he went to the great Hungarian mathematician, John von Neumann, who was at Los Alamos as a consultant.

"Simple," said von Neumann. "The can be solved by using the method of characteristics."

After the explanation, the physicist said, "I'm afraid I don't understand the method of characteristics."

"Young man," said von Neumann, "in mathematics you don't understand things, you just get used to them."


David Wells offers a variant in The Penguin Book of Curious and Interesting Mathematics (1997):

Van Neumann had just about ended his lecture when a student stood up and in a vaguely abashed tone said he hadn't understood the final argument. Von Neumann answered: "Young man, in mathematics you don't understand things. You just get used to them.

Variant: "Don't worry, young man: in mathematics, none of us really understands any idea -- we just get used to them."
Added on 17-Nov-20 | Last updated 17-Nov-20
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Since geometry is co-eternal with the divine mind before the birth of things, God himself served as his own model in creating the world (for what is there in God which is not God?), and he with his own image reached down to humanity.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) German astronomer
The Harmonies of the World [Harmonices Mundi], Book 4, ch. 1 (1618)
Added on 12-Feb-15 | Last updated 12-Feb-15
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Geometry is one and eternal shining in the mind of God. That share in it accorded to humans is one of the reasons that humanity is the image of God.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) German astronomer
The Harmonies of the World [Harmonices Mundi], Book 3, ch. 1 (1618)

Alt. trans.:
  • "Geometry, co-eternal with God and shining in the divine Mind, gave God the pattern ... by which he laid out the world so that it might be best and most beautiful and finally most like the Creator."
  • "Geometry is one and eternal shining in the mind of God. That share in it accorded to men is one of the reasons that Man is the image of God."
Added on 4-Feb-15 | Last updated 4-Feb-15
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