Great Quotations about Mathematics, Knowledge, and Learning

The following quotes were taken from the website of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA).  Each of them resonated with me for one reason or another.

Which is your favorite?


Great Quotations about Mathematics, Knowledge, and Learning

It is a great nuisance that knowledge can only be acquired through hard work. W. Somerset Maugham

The study of mathematics is apt to commence in disappointment….We are told that by its aid the stars are weighed and the billions of molecules in a drop of water are counted. Yet, like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, this greatest science [often] eludes the efforts of our mental weapons to grasp it.  Alfred North Whitehead (1861 – 1947) An Introduction to Mathematics

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 from  L.A. Steen and D.J. Albers (eds.), Teaching Teachers, Teaching Students, Boston: Birkhauser, 1981, p. 89.

Mathematics was born and nurtured in a cultural environment. Without the perspective which the cultural background affords, a proper appreciation of the content and state of present-day mathematics is hardly possible. R. L. Wilder in The American Mathematical Monthly, March 1994.

Perhaps I could best describe my experience of doing mathematics in terms of entering a dark mansion. You go into the first room and it’s dark, completely dark. You stumble around, bumping into furniture. Gradually, you learn where each piece of furniture is, and, finally, after six months or so, you find the light switch and turn it on. Suddenly, it’s all illuminated and you know exactly where you were. Then you enter the next dark room….
Andrew Wiles from the PBS Nova program: The Proof

Our minds are finite, and yet even in those circumstances of finitude, we are surrounded by possibilities that are infinite, and the purpose of human life is to grasp as much as we can out of that infinitude. Alfred North Whitehead

I advise my students to listen carefully the moment they decide to take no more mathematics courses. They might be able to hear the sound of closing doors. James Caballero. Everybody a mathematician?, CAIP Quarterly 2 (Fall, 1989).

It is not knowledge, but the act of learning, not possession but the act of getting there, which grants the greatest enjoyment. When I have clarified and exhausted a subject, then I turn away from it, in order to go into darkness again; the never satisfied man is so strange if he has completed a structure, then it is not in order to dwell in it peacefully, but in order to begin another. I imagine the world conqueror must feel thus, who, after one kingdom is scarcely conquered, stretched out his arms for others. Carl Friedrich Gauss

It is nothing short of a miracle that modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiousity of inquiry. Albert Einstein (1879-1955) in H. Eves Return to Mathematical Circles, 1988.


About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Secondary math teacher teaching math intervention, algebra 1, honors precalculus, and AP Calculus AB. I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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