George Polya quotes

Mathematics is the cheapest science. Unlike physics or chemistry, it does not require any expensive equipment. All one needs for mathematics is a pencil and paper.
 George Polya 
A great discovery solves a great problem, but there is a grain of discovery in the solution of any problem. Your problem may be modest, but if it challenges your curiosity and brings into play your inventive faculties, and if you solve it by your own means, you may experience the tension and enjoy the triumph of discovery.
 George Polya 
Where should I start? Start from the statement of the problem. ... What can I do? Visualize the problem as a whole as clearly and as vividly as you can. ... What can I gain by doing so? You should understand the problem, familiarize yourself with it, impress its purpose on your mind.
 George Polya 
Even fairly good students, when they have obtained the solution of the problem and written down neatly the argument, shut their books and look for something else. Doing so, they miss an important and instructive phase of the work. ... A good teacher should understand and impress on his students the view that no problem whatever is completely exhausted.
 George Polya 

Beauty in mathematics is seeing the truth without effort.
 George Polya 
Pedantry and mastery are opposite attitudes toward rules. To apply a rule to the letter, rigidly, unquestioningly, in cases where it fits and in cases where it does not fit, is pedantry. [...] To apply a rule with natural ease, with judgment, noticing the cases where it fits, and without ever letting the words of the rule obscure the purpose of the action or the opportunities of the situation, is mastery.
 George Polya 
If you wish to learn swimming you have to go into the water and if you wish to become a problem solver you have to solve problems.
 George Polya 
Epitaph on Newton: Nature and Nature's law lay hid in night: God said, "Let Newton be!," and all was light. [added by Sir John Collings Squire: It did not last: the Devil shouting "Ho. Let Einstein be," restored the status quo] [Aaron Hill's version: O'er Nature's laws God cast the veil of night, Out blaz'd a Newton's soul and all was light.
 George Polya 

My method to overcome a difficulty is to go round it.
 George Polya 
In order to translate a sentence from English into French two things are necessary. First, we must understand thoroughly the English sentence. Second, we must be familiar with the forms of expression peculiar to the French language. The situation is very similar when we attempt to express in mathematical symbols a condition proposed in words. First, we must understand thoroughly the condition. Second, we must be familiar with the forms of mathematical expression.
 George Polya 
Solving problems is a practical skill like, let us say, swimming. We acquire any practical skill by imitation and practice. Trying to swim, you imitate what other people do with their hands and feet to keep their heads above water, and, finally, you learn to swim by practicing swimming. Trying to solve problems, you have to observe and to imitate what other people do when solving problems, and, finally, you learn to do problems by doing them.
 George Polya 
If there is a problem you can't solve, then there is an easier problem you can't solve: find it.
 George Polya 

The first rule of style is to have something to say. The second rule of style is to control yourself when, by chance, you have two things to say; say first one, then the other, not both at the same time.
 George Polya 
I am too good for philosophy and not good enough for physics. Mathematics is in between.
 George Polya 
Mathematics is not a spectator sport!
 George Polya 
Mathematics consists in proving the most obvious thing in the least obvious way.
 George Polya 

Success in solving the problem depends on choosing the right aspect, on attacking the fortress from its accessible side.
 George Polya 
It is better to solve one problem five different ways, than to solve five problems one way.
 George Polya 
Mathematics has two faces: it is the rigorous science of Euclid, but it is also something else. Mathematics presented in the Euclidean way appears as a systematic, deductive science; but mathematics in the making appears as an experimental, inductive science. Both aspects are as old as the science of mathematics itself.
 George Polya 
Euclid 's manner of exposition, progressing relentlessly from the data to the unknown and from the hypothesis to the conclusion, is perfect for checking the argument in detail but far from being perfect for making understandable the main line of the argument.
 George Polya 

Analogy pervades all our thinking, our everyday speech and our trivial conclusions as well as artistic ways of expression and the highest scientific achievements.
 George Polya 
In order to solve this differential equation you look at it until a solution occurs to you.
 George Polya 
In the "commentatio" (note presented to the Russian Academy) in which his theorem on polyhedra (on the number of faces, edges and vertices) was first published Euler gives no proof. In place of a proof, he offers an inductive argument: he verifies the relation in a variety of special cases. There is little doubt that he also discovered the theorem, as many of his other results, inductively.
 George Polya 
I am intentionally avoiding the standard term which, by the way, did not exist in Euler's time. One of the ugliest outgrowths of the "new math" was the premature introduction of technical terms.
 George Polya 

A mathematician who can only generalise is like a monkey who can only climb up a tree, and a mathematician who can only specialise is like a monkey who can only climb down a tree. In fact neither the up monkey nor the down monkey is a viable creature. A real monkey must find food and escape his enemies and so must be able to incessantly climb up and down. A real mathematician must be able to generalise and specialise.
 George Polya 
Hilbert once had a student in mathematics who stopped coming to his lectures, and he was finally told the young man had gone off to become a poet. Hilbert is reported to have remarked: 'I never thought he had enough imagination to be a mathematician.'
 George Polya 
The principle is so perfectly general that no particular application of it is possible.
 George Polya 
The first and foremost duty of the high school in teaching mathematics is to emphasize methodical work in problem solving...The teacher who wishes to serve equally all his students, future users and nonusers of mathematics, should teach problem solving so that it is about onethird mathematics and twothirds common sense.
 George Polya 

To write and speak correctly is certainly necessary; but it is not sufficient. A derivation correctly presented in the book or on the blackboard may be inaccessible and uninstructive, if the purpose of the successive steps is incomprehensible, if the reader or listener cannot understand how it was humanly possible to find such an argument....
 George Polya 
An idea which can be used once is a trick. If it can be used more than once it becomes a method.
 George Polya 
The best of ideas is hurt by uncritical acceptance and thrives on critical examination.
 George Polya 
A GREAT discovery solves a great problem but there is a grain of discovery in any problem.
 George Polya 

The elegance of a mathematical theorem is directly proportional to the number of independent ideas one can see in the theorem and inversely proportional to the effort it takes to see them.
 George Polya 
The world is anxious to admire that apex and culmination of modern mathematics: a theorem so perfectly general that no particular application of it is feasible.
 George Polya 
Quite often, when an idea that could be helpful presents itself, we do not appreciate it, for it is so inconspicuous. The expert has, perhaps, no more ideas than the inexperienced, but appreciates more what he has and uses it better.
 George Polya 
To teach effectively a teacher must develop a feeling for his subject; he cannot make his students sense its vitality if he does not sense it himself. He cannot share his enthusiasm when he has no enthusiasm to share. How he makes his point may be as important as the point he makes; he must personally feel it to be important.
 George Polya 

The teacher can seldom afford to miss the questions: What is the unknown? What are the data? What is the condition? The student should consider the principal parts of the problem attentively, repeatedly, and from from various sides.
 George Polya 
One of the first and foremost duties of the teacher is not to give his students the impression that mathematical problems have little connection with each other, and no connection at all with anything else. We have a natural opportunity to investigate the connections of a problem when looking back at its solution.
 George Polya 
If you cannot solve the proposed problem try to solve first some related problem.
 George Polya 
There are many questions which fools can ask that wise men cannot answer.
 George Polya 

The first rule of discovery is to have brains and good luck. The second rule of discovery is to sit tight and wait till you get a bright idea.
 George Polya 
When introduced at the wrong time or place, good logic may be the worst enemy of good teaching.
 George Polya 
Mathematics is being lazy. Mathematics is letting the principles do the work for you so that you do not have to do the work for yourself
 George Polya 
Geometry is the science of correct reasoning on incorrect figures.
 George Polya 

The open secret of real success is to throw your whole personality into your problem.
 George Polya 
There was a seminar for advanced students in ZÃ¼rich that I was teaching and von Neumann was in the class. I came to a certain theorem, and I said it is not proved and it may be difficult. Von Neumann didn't say anything but after five minutes he raised his hand. When I called on him he went to the blackboard and proceeded to write down the proof. After that I was afraid of von Neumann.
 George Polya 
If the proof starts from axioms, distinguishes several cases, and takes thirteen lines in the text book ... it may give the youngsters the impression that mathematics consists in proving the most obvious things in the least obvious way.
 George Polya 
The future mathematician ... should solve problems, choose the problems which are in his line, meditate upon their solution, and invent new problems. By this means, and by all other means, he should endeavor to make his first important discovery: he should discover his likes and dislikes, his taste, his own line.
 George Polya 

Look around when you have got your first mushroom or made your first discovery: they grow in clusters.
 George Polya 
If you have to prove a theorem, do not rush. First of all, understand fully what the theorem says, try to see clearly what it means. Then check the theorem; it could be false. Examine the consequences, verify as many particular instances as are needed to convince yourself of the truth. When you have satisfied yourself that the theorem is true, you can start proving it.
 George Polya 
The cookbook gives a detailed description of ingredients and procedures but no proofs for its prescriptions or reasons for its recipes; the proof of the pudding is in the eating. ... Mathematics cannot be tested in exactly the same manner as a pudding; if all sorts of reasoning are debarred, a course of calculus may easily become an incoherent inventory of indigestible information.
 George Polya
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