Alfred North Whitehead
English mathematician and philosopher (1861-1947)
Alfred North Whitehead was an English mathematician and philosopher. He is best known as the defining figure of the philosophical school known as process philosophy, which today has found application to a wide variety of disciplines, including ecology, theology, education, physics, biology, economics, and psychology, among other areas.
Alfred North Whitehead Quotes Page 3
Ideas won't keep; something must be done about them.
Through and through the world is infested with quantity: To talk sense is to talk quantities. It is no use saying the nation is large ... How large? It is no use saying the radium is scarce ... How scarce? You cannot evade quantity. You may fly to poetry and music, and quantity and number will face you in your rhythms and your octaves.
Familiar things happen, and mankind does not bother about them. It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.
I regret that it has been necessary for me in this lecture to administer a large dose of four-dimensional geometry. I do not apologize, because I am really not responsible for the fact that nature in its most fundamental aspect is four-dimensional. Things are what they are.
I will not go so far as to say that to construct a history of thought without profound study of the mathematical ideas of successive epochs is like omitting Hamlet from the play which is named after him. That would be claiming too much. But it is certainly analogous to cutting out the part of Ophelia. This simile is singularly exact. For Ophelia is quite essential to the play, she is very charming ... and a little mad.
Life is an offensive, directed against the repetitious mechanism of the Universe.
It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.
The science of pure mathematics ... may claim to be the most original creation of the human spirit.
Algebra reverses the relative importance of the factors in ordinary language. It is essentially a written language, and it endeavors to exemplify in its written structures the patterns which it is its purpose to convey. The pattern of the marks on paper is a particular instance of the pattern to be conveyed to thought. The algebraic method is our best approach to the expression of necessity, by reason of its reduction of accident to the ghostlike character of the real variable.
It is a safe rule to apply that, when a mathematical or philosophical author writes with a misty profundity, he is talking nonsense.