Consider now the Milky Way. Here also we see an innumerable dust, only the grains of this dust are no longer atoms but stars; these grains also move with great velocities, they act at a distance one upon another, but this action is so slight at great distances that their trajectories are rectilineal; nevertheless, from time to time, two of them may come near enough together to be deviated from their course, like a comet that passed too close to Jupiter. In a word, in the eyes of a giant, to whom our Suns were what our atoms are to us, the Milky Way would only look like a bubble of gas.
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The scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it, and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful it would not be worth knowing, and life would not be worth living. I am not speaking, of course, of the beauty which strikes the senses, of the beauty of qualities and appearances. I am far from despising this, but it has nothing to do with science. What I mean is that more intimate beauty which comes from the harmonious order of its parts, and which a pure intelligence can grasp.
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Le savant doit ordonner ; on fait la science avec des faits comme une maison avec des pierres ; mais une accumulation de faits n'est pas plus une science qu'un tas de pierres n'est une maison. The Scientist must set in order. Science is built up with facts, as a house is with stones. But a collection of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house.
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Derrie¨re la serie de Fourier, d'autres series analogues sont entrees dans la domaine de l'analyse; elles y sont entrees par la meªme porte; elles ont ete imaginees en vue des applications. After the Fourier series, other series have entered the domain of analysis; they entered by the same door; they have been imagined in view of applications.
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I then began to study arithmetical questions without any great apparent result, and without suspecting that they could have the least connexion with my previous researches. Disgusted at my want of success, I went away to spend a few days at the seaside, and thought of entirely different things. One day, as I was walking on the cliff, the idea came to me, again with the same characteristics of conciseness, suddenness, and immediate certainty, that arithmetical transformations of indefinite ternary quadratic forms are identical with those of non-Euclidian geometry.
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I left Caen, where I was living, to go on a geological excursion under the auspices of the School of Mines. The incidents of the travel made me forget my mathematical work. Having reached Coutances, we entered an omnibus to go to some place or other. At the moment when I put my foot on the step, the idea came to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it, that the transformations I had used to define the Fuchsian functions were identical with those of non-Euclidean geometry. I did not verify the idea; I should not have had time, as upon taking my seat in the omnibus, I went on with a conversation already commenced, but I felt a perfect certainty. On my return to Caen, for convenience sake, I verified the result at my leisure.
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How is it that there are so many minds that are incapable of understanding mathematics?... the skeleton of our understanding, ... and actually they are the majority... We have here a problem that is not easy of solution, but yet must engage the attention of all who wish to devote themselves to education.
On fait la science avec des faits, comme on fait une maison avec des pierres; mais une accumulation de faits n'est pas plus une science qu'un tas de pierres n'est une maison. Science is built up with facts, as a house is with stones. But a collection of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house.
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The advance of science is not comparable to the changes of a city, where old edifices are pitilessly torn down to give place to new, but to the continuous evolution of zoologic types which develop ceaselessly and end by becoming unrecognisable to the common sight, but where an expert eye finds always traces of the prior work of the centuries past. One must not think then that the old-fashioned theories have been sterile and vain.
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Astronomy is useful because it raises us above ourselves; it is useful because it is grand; .... It shows us how small is man's body, how great his mind, since his intelligence can embrace the whole of this dazzling immensity, where his body is only an obscure point, and enjoy its silent harmony.
All the scientist creates in a fact is the language in which he enunciates it. If he predicts a fact, he will employ this language, and for all those who can speak and understand it, his prediction is free from ambiguity. Moreover, this prediction once made, it evidently does not depend upon him whether it is fulfilled or not.
Tolstoi explains somewhere in his writings why, in his opinion, "Science for Science's sake" is an absurd conception. We cannot know all the facts since they are infinite in number. We must make a selection ... guided by utility ... Have we not some better occupation than counting the number of lady-birds in existence on this planet?
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So is not mathematical analysis then not just a vain game of the mind? To the physicist it can only give a convenient language; but isn't that a mediocre service, which after all we could have done without; and, it is not even to be feared that this artificial language be a veil, interposed between reality and the physicist's eye? Far from that, without this language most of the initimate analogies of things would forever have remained unknown to us; and we would never have had knowledge of the internal harmony of the world, which is, as we shall see, the only true objective reality.
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All that we can hope from these inspirations, which are the fruits of unconscious work, is to obtain points of departure for such calculations. As for the calculations themselves, they must be made in the second period of conscious work which follows the inspiration, and in which the results of the inspiration are verified and the consequences deduced."Ž
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A first fact should surprise us, or rather would surprise us if we were not used to it. How does it happen there are people who do not understand mathematics? If mathematics invokes only the rules of logic, such as are accepted by all normal minds...how does it come about that so many persons are here refractory?
Every phenomenon, however trifling it be, has a cause, and a mind infinitely powerful, and infinitely well-informed concerning the laws of nature could have foreseen it from the beginning of the ages. If a being with such a mind existed, we could play no game of chance with him; we should always lose.
It is often said that experiments should be made without preconceived ideas. That is impossible. Not only would it make every experiment fruitless, but even if we wished to do so, it could not be done. Every man has his own conception of the world, and this he cannot so easily lay aside. We must, example, use language, and our language is necessarily steeped in preconceived ideas. Only they are unconscious preconceived ideas, which are a thousand times the most dangerous of all.
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If we ought not to fear mortal truth, still less should we dread scientific truth. In the first place it can not conflict with ethics? But if science is feared, it is above all because it can give no happiness? Man, then, can not be happy through science but today he can much less be happy without it.
When the logician has resolved each demonstration into a host of elementary operations, all of them correct, he will not yet be in possession of the whole reality, that indefinable something that constitutes the unity ... Now pure logic cannot give us this view of the whole; it is to intuition that we must look for it.
Thus, be it understood, to demonstrate a theorem, it is neither necessary nor even advantageous to know what it means. The geometer might be replaced by the "logic piano" imagined by Stanley Jevons; or, if you choose, a machine might be imagined where the assumptions were put in at one end, while the theorems came out at the other, like the legendary Chicago machine where the pigs go in alive and come out transformed into hams and sausages. No more than these machines need the mathematician know what he does.
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This harmony that human intelligence believes it discovers in nature - does it exist apart from that intelligence? No, without doubt, a reality completely independent of the spirit which conceives it, sees it or feels it, is an impossibility. A world so exterior as that, even if it existed, would be forever inaccessible to us. But what we call objective reality is, in the last analysis, that which is common to several thinking beings, and could be common to all; this common part, we will see, can be nothing but the harmony expressed by mathematical laws.
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I entered an omnibus to go to some place or other. At that moment when I put my foot on the step the idea came to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it, that the transformations I had used to define the Fuchsian functions were identical with non-Euclidean geometry.
How is it that there are so many minds that are incapable of understanding mathematics? ... the skeleton of our understanding, ... and actually they are the majority. ... We have here a problem that is not easy of solution, but yet must engage the attention of all who wish to devote themselves to education.