"Mathematics is gibberish"

воскресенье, марта 06, 2011 12:38

"Mathematics is gibberish." Little need be said about this statement. It is only worthy of the utterly illiterate.

"What is the use of it ? It is all waste of time. Better be doing something useful. Why, you might be inventing a new dynamo in the time you waste over all that stuff." Now, similar remarks to these I have often heard from fairly intelligent and educated people. They don't see the use of it, that is plain. That is nothing ; what is to the point is that they conclude that it is of no use. For it may be easily observed that the parrot-cry "What's the use of it?" does not emanate in a humble spirit of inquiry, but on the contrary, quite the reverse. You can see the nose turn up.

Portrait of Oliver Heaviside (1850-1925), Physicist

But what is the use of it, then ? Well, it is quite certain that if a person has no mathematical talent whatever he had really better be doing something "useful," that is to say, something else than mathematics, (inventing a dynamo, for instance,) and not be wasting his time in (so to speak) trying to force a crop of wheat on the sands of the sea-shore. This is quite a personal question. Every mind should receive fair development (in good directions) for what it is capable of doing fairly well. People who do not cultivate their minds have no conception of what they lose. They become mere eating and drinking and money-grabbing machines. And yet they seem happy ! There is some merciful dispensation at work, no doubt.

"Mathematics is a mere machine. You can't get anything out of it that you don't put in first. You put it in, and then just grind it out again. You can't discover anything by mathematics, or invent anything. You can't get more than a pint out of a pint pot." And so forth.

It is scarcely credible to the initiated that such statements could be made by any person who could be said to have an intellect. But I have heard similar remarks from really talented men, who might have fair mathematical aptitude themselves, though quite undeveloped. The fact is, the statements contain at once a profound truth, and a mischievous fallacy. That the fallacy is not self-evident affords an excuse for its not being perceived even by those who may (perhaps imperfectly) recognize the element of truth.. But as regards the truth mentioned, I doubt whether the caviller has generally any distinct idea of it either, or he would not express it so contemptuously along with the fallacy.

Oliver Heaviside “Electromagnetic Theory”, Vol. I, London:“The Electrician” Printing and Publishing Co., 1893.


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