Quotations by Hermann Weyl


Our federal income tax law defines the tax y to be paid in terms of the income x; it does so in a clumsy enough way by pasting several linear functions together, each valid in another interval or bracket of income. An archeologist who, five thousand years from now, shall unearth some of our income tax returns together with relics of engineering works and mathematical books, will probably date them a couple of centuries earlier, certainly before Galileo and Viète.
The Mathematical Way of Thinking, an address given at the Bicentennial Conference at the University of Pennsylvania, 1940.

We are not very pleased when we are forced to accept a mathematical truth by virtue of a complicated chain of formal conclusions and computations, which we traverse blindly, link by link, feeling our way by touch. We want first an overview of the aim and of the road; we want to understand the idea of the proof, the deeper context.
Unterrichtsblätter für Mathematik und Naturwissenschaften, 38, 177-188 (1932). Translation by Abe Shenitzer appeared in The American Mathematical Monthly, v. 102, no. 7 (August-September 1995), p. 646.

A modern mathematical proof is not very different from a modern machine, or a modern test setup: the simple fundamental principles are hidden and almost invisible under a mass of technical details.
Unterrichtsblätter für Mathematik und Naturwissenschaften, 38, 177-188 (1932). Translation by Abe Shenitzer appeared in The American Mathematical Monthly, v. 102, no. 7 (August-September 1995), p. 646.

The constructs of the mathematical mind are at the same time free and necessary. The individual mathematician feels free to define his notions and set up his axioms as he pleases. But the question is will he get his fellow mathematician interested in the constructs of his imagination. We cannot help the feeling that certain mathematical structures which have evolved through the combined efforts of the mathematical community bear the stamp of a necessity not affected by the accidents of their historical birth. Everybody who looks at the spectacle of modern algebra will be struck by this complementarity of freedom and necessity.
1951.

My work has always tried to unite the true with the beautiful and when I had to choose one or the other, I usually chose the beautiful.
In an obituary by Freeman J. Dyson in Nature, March 10, 1956.

... numbers have neither substance, nor meaning, nor qualities. They are nothing but marks, and all that is in them we have put into them by the simple rule of straight succession.
"Mathematics and the Laws of Nature" in The Armchair Science Reader (New York 1959).

Without the concepts, methods and results found and developed by previous generations right down to Greek antiquity one cannot understand either the aims or achievements of mathematics in the last 50 years.
[Said in 1950]
The American Mathematical Monthly, v. 100. p. 93.

Logic is the hygiene the mathematician practices to keep his ideas healthy and strong.
The American Mathematical Monthly, November, 1992.

I would like to throttle the man who wrote this book.
Quoted in D MacHale, Comic Sections (Dublin 1993)

The whole is always more, is more capable of a much greater variety of wave states, than the combination of its parts. ... In this very radical sense, quantum physics supports the doctrine that the whole is more than the combination of its parts.
Philosophy of Mathematics and Natural Science (Princeton 1949)

Mathematics has been called the science of the infinite. Indeed, the mathematician invents finite constructions by which questions are decided that by their very nature refer to the infinite. This is his glory.
Axiomatic versus constructive procedures in mathematics, The Mathematical Intelligencer 7 (4) (19850, 10-17.

The question of the ultimate foundations and the ultimate meaning of mathematics remains open; we do not know in what direction it will find its final solution or even whether a final objective answer can be expected at all. "Mathematizing" may well be a creative activity of man, like language or music, of primary originality, whose historical decisions defy complete objective rationalization.

Symmetry, as wide or narrow as you may define its meaning, is one idea by which man through the ages has tried to comprehend and create order, beauty, and perfection.

In these days the angel of topology and the devil of abstract algebra fight for the soul of every individual discipline of mathematics.


JOC/EFR February 2006

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