Favorite Quotations

Probability, Statistics, and Mathematics

But the creative principle resides in mathematics. In a certain sense, therefore, I hold it true that pure thought can grasp reality, as the ancients dreamed.
-- Albert Einstein

Misunderstanding of probability may be the greatest of all impediments to scientific literacy.
-- Stephen Jay Gould

It is remarkable that a science which began with the consideration of games of chance should have become the most important object of human knowledge.
-- Pierre Simon Laplace

The record of a month's roulette playing at Monte Carlo can afford us material for discussing the foundations of knowledge.
-- Karl Pearson

I dreamt that I was in Hell, and that Hell is a place full of all those happenings that are improbable but not impossible. . . . There is a special department of Hell for students of probability. In this department there are many typewriters and many monkeys. Every time that a monkey walks on a typewriter, it types by chance one of Shakespeare's sonnets.
-- Andre Bumblowski's nightmare, as related to Bertrand Russell


It is difficult to understand why statisticians commonly limit their inquiries to Averages, and do not revel in more comprehensive views. Their souls seem as dull to the charm of variety as that of the native of one of our flat English counties, whose retrospect of Switzerland was that, if its mountains could be thrown into its lakes, two nuisances would be got rid of at once.
-- Sir Francis Galton

There are two times in a man's life when he should not speculate: when he can't afford it, and when he can.
-- Mark Twain

The odds? A dissertation may be needed in the mathematical journals, but it seems the odds may be 1 in 10 million (from a University of Rochester math professor), to 1 in 1,890 trillion (according to a Harvard math professor), to 1 in 8.7 million (according to the National Hole-in-One Foundation of Dallas), to 1 in 332,000 according to Golf Digest Calculator, who added that, statistically, this will not happen again in 190 years.
-- Boston Globe, 1989, on the U.S. Open, when 4 golfers, all using 7 irons, scored holes-in-one on the 6th hole of the course

The lottery: a tax on people who flunked math.
-- Monique Lloyd

Coincidences, in general, are great stumbling blocks in the way of that class of thinkers who have been educated to know nothing of the theory of probabilities---that theory to which the most glorious objects of human research are indebted for the most glorious of illustrations.
-- Arsene Dupin, in The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Edgar Allen Poe

[I disagree] with the large number of public personalities at the present time who demand of scientists in general, and mathematicians in particular, that they should devote their energies to producing the legions of technologists whose existence, it appears, is urgently indispensable for our survival. Things being as they are, it seems to us that in the scientifically and technologically overdeveloped "great" nations in which we live, the first duty of a mathematician--and of many others -- is to produce what is not demanded of him, namely people who are capable of thinking for themselves, of unmasking false arguments and ambiguous phrases, and to whom the dissemination of truth is infinitely more important than, for example, world-wide three-dimensional TV: free [people] and not robots ruled by technocrats. It is sad but true that the best way of producing such [people] does not consist in teaching them mathematics and physical science; for these are the branches of knowledge which ignore the very existence of human problems, and it is a disturbing thought that our most civilized societies award them the first place. But even in the teaching of mathematics it is possible to attempt to impart a taste of freedom and reason, and to accustom the young to being treated as human beings endowed with the faculty of reason.
-- Robert Godement, Preface to Algebra, 1968

Mathematics may humbly help in the market-place, but it also reaches to the stars.
-- Herbert W. Turnbull

Ideal Toy Company stated on the package of the original Rubik's cube that there were more than 3 billion possible states the cube could attain. This is analogous to McDonald's announcing that they've sold more than 120 hamburgers.
-- J.A. Paulos, Innumeracy

One of the big misapprehensions about mathematics that we perpetrate in our classrooms is that the teacher always seems to know the answer to any problem that is discussed. This gives students the idea that there is a book somewhere with all the right answers to all of the interesting questions, and that teachers know those answers. And if one could get hold of the book, one would have everything settled. That's so unlike the true nature of mathematics.
-- Leon Henkin, Teaching Teachers, Teaching Students

O King, for traveling over the country, there are royal roads and roads for common citizens; but in geometry there is one road for all.
-- Menaechmus (4th century BC) when his pupil Alexander the Great asked for a shortcut to geometry.

If the entire Mandelbrot set were placed on an ordinary sheet of paper, the tiny sections of boundary we examine would not fill the width of a hydrogen atom. Physicists think about such tiny objects; only mathematicians have microscopes fine enough to actually observe them.
-- John Ewing

If I were asked to name, in one word, the pole star round which the mathematical firmament revolves, the central idea which pervades the whole corpus of mathematical doctrine, I should point to Continuity as contained in our notions of space, and say, it is this, it is this!
-- J.J. Sylvester

Mathematical knowledge adds vigor to the minds, frees it from prejudice, credulity, and superstition.
-- John Arbuthnot

Only professional mathematicians learn anything from proofs. Other people learn from explanations.
-- R. P. Boas

Life, and other things . . .

All you need is love, love. Love is all you need. – The Beatles


Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn’t mean we deserve to conquer the Universe. – Kurt Vonnegut, Hocus Pocus


A house without a dog or cat, is the house of a scoundrel. -- Portuguese saying


When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.
-- Helder Camara


Intelligence is knowing what to do when you don't know what to do.
-- John Holt


Acceptance, forgiveness, and love. Now that's a philosophy of life -- Danny Rose in Woody Allen's Broadway Danny Rose


I believe that part of what propels science is the thirst for wonder. It's a very powerful emotion. All children feel it. In a first grade classroom everybody feels it; in a twelfth grade classroom almost nobody feels it, or at least acknowledges it. Something happens between first and twelfth grade, and it's not just puberty. Not only do the schools and the media not teach much skepticism, there is also little encouragement of this stirring sense of wonder. Science and pseudoscience both arouse that feeling. Poor popularizations of science establish an ecological niche for pseudoscience.
-- Carl Sagan


The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. School days, I believe, are the unhappiest in the whole span of human existence. They are full of dull, unintelligible tasks, new and unpleasant ordinances, brutal violations of common sense and common decency.
-- H.L. Mencken


In all honesty, Johnny, we are often at the mercy of the White House for the news we report. Frequently, we simply repeat verbatim what the White House tells us.
-- Connie Chung to Johnny Carson

CBS reporter Lesley Stahl's question on U.S. sanctions against Iraq to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?
Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it.
-- 60 Minutes, May 12, 1996

Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism - how passionately I hate them!
-- Albert Einstein

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
-- Robert Heinlein, The Notebooks of Lazarus Long

If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.
-- Albert Einstein

A society of sheep must in time beget a government of wolves.
-- Bertrand de Jouvenal

Without struggle, there is no progress.
-- Frederick Douglass

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. -- Karl Marx

Every passing hour brings the Solar System 43,000 miles closer to Globular Cluster M13 in Hercules—and still there are some misfits who insist that there is no such thing as progress. – Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan

Music is the pleasure the human soul experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting.
-- Leibniz

Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.
-- Albert Einstein

Better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness.
-- Anonymous

First, do no harm.
-- Anonymous

I'm 32 years old but I read at the 34-year-old level.
-- Dana Carvey

The Law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich, as well as the poor, to sleep under the bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal.
-- Anatole France

We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.
-- Stephen W. Hawking

I loathe the expression ``What makes him tick.'' It is the American mind, looking for simple and singular solution, that uses the foolish expression. A person not only ticks, he also chimes and strikes the hour, falls and breaks and has to be put together again, and sometimes stops like an electric clock in a thunderstorm.
-- James Thurber

In all recorded history there has not been one economist who has had to worry about where the next meal would come from.
-- Peter F. Drucker

Byron Elbows' two rules of human nature:
* No one is as weird as they think they are.
* Everyone is weirder than others think they are.

The primary purpose of the DATA statement is to give names to constants; instead of referring to pi as 3.141592653589793 at every appearance, the variable PI can be given that value with a DATA statement and used instead of the longer form of the constant. This also simplifies modifying the program, should the value of pi change.
-- Fortran manual for Xerox computers

I went into a McDonald's yesterday and said, "I'd like some fries." The girl at the counter said, "Would you like some fries with that?"
-- Jay Leno


Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, yo’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies – “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” – Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Beware of bugs in the above code; I have only proved it correct, not tried it.
-- Donald Knuth

1492. As children we were taught to memorize this year with pride and joy as the year people began living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America. Actually, people had been living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America for hundreds of years before that. 1492 was simply the year sea pirates began to rob, cheat, and kill them.
-- Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

Why does man kill? He kills for food. And not only food: frequently there must be a beverage.
-- Woody Allen

My only hope is that at least it may stagger you in your certainties.
-- Charles Darwin

90% of life is showing up.
-- Woody Allen

Beware of any enterprise that requires new clothes.
-- Thoreau

We are what we pretend to be. So we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
-- Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.
-- Bertrand Russell

Some other quotation sites

Nick Trefethen's Maxims about numerical mathematics, science, computers, and life on earth

From Information Clearing House on History, justice, truth and patriotism