John Edensor Littlewood Quotes and Sayings  Page 1

“Before creation, God did just pure mathematics. Then He thought it would be a pleasant change to do some applied.”
 John Edensor Littlewood 
“A Miscellany is a collection without a natual ordering relation.”
 John Edensor Littlewood 
“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".”
 John Edensor Littlewood 
“In presenting a mathematical argument the great thing is to give the educated reader the chance to catch on at once to the momentary point and take details for granted: two trivialities omitted can add up to an impasse). The unpractised writer, even after the dawn of a conscience, gives him no such chance; before he can spot the point he has to tease his way through a maze of symbols of which not the tiniest suffix can be skipped.”
 John Edensor Littlewood 
“Mathematics is a dangerous profession; an appreciable proportion of us go mad.”
 John Edensor Littlewood 
“A good mathematical joke is better, and better mathematics, than a dozen mediocre papers.”
 John Edensor Littlewood 
“The infinitely competent can be uncreative.”
 John Edensor Littlewood 
“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.)”
 John Edensor Littlewood 
“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."”
 John Edensor Littlewood 
“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.”
 John Edensor Littlewood 
“The surprising thing about this paper is that a man who could write it would.”
 John Edensor Littlewood 
“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".”
 John Edensor Littlewood 
“I recall once saying that when I had given the same lecture several times I couldn't help feeling that they really ought to know it by now.”
 John Edensor Littlewood 
“A heavy warning used to be given that pictures are not rigorous; this has never had its bluff called and has permanently frightened its victims into playing for safety.”
 John Edensor Littlewood 
“I read in the proof sheets of Hardy on Ramanujan: "As someone said, each of the positive integers was one of his personal friends." My reaction was, "I wonder who said that; I wish I had." In the next proofsheets I read (what now stands), "It was Littlewood who said..."”
 John Edensor Littlewood 
“In passing, I firmly believe that research should be offset by a certain amount of teaching, if only as a change from the agony of research. The trouble, however, I freely admit, is that in practice you get either no teaching, or else far too much.”
 John Edensor Littlewood 
“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.”
 John Edensor Littlewood 
“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.”
 John Edensor Littlewood
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