Quotations by Charles Babbage


The errors which arise from the absence of facts are far more numerous and more durable than those which result from unsound reasoning respecting true data.
On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures

I wish to God these calculations had been executed by steam.
Quoted in H. Eves In Mathematical Circles, (Boston 1969).

On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.

You will be able to appreciate the influence of such an Engine on the future progress of science. I live in a country which is incapable of estimating it.

The whole of the developments and operations of analysis are now capable of being executed by machinery. ... As soon as an Analytical Engine exists, it will necessarily guide the future course of science.
Passages from the Life of a Philosopher (London 1864)

The Council of the Royal Society is a collection of men who elect each other to office and then dine together at the expense of this society to praise each other over wine and give each other medals.
Quoted in D MacHale, Comic Sections (Dublin 1993)

... it is said that he [Babbage] sent the following letter to Alfred, Lord Tennyson about a couplet in "The Vision of Sin":

Every minute dies a man,
Every minute one is born
I need hardly point out to you that this calculation would tend to keep the sum total of the world's population in a state of perpetual equipoise, whereas it is a well-known fact that the said sum total is constantly on the increase. I would therefore take the liberty of suggesting that in the next edition of your excellent poem the erroneous calculation to which I refer should be corrected as follows:
Every minute dies a man,
And one and a sixteenth is born
I may add that the exact figures are 1.167, but something must, of course, be conceded to the laws of metre.
Charles Babbage and his Calculating Engines

Meeting Dr. Wollaston one morning in the shop of a bookseller, I proposed this question: If two volumes of hydrogen and one of oxygen are mixed together in a vessel, and if by mechanical pressure they can be so condensed as to become of the same specific gravity as water, will the gases under these circumstances unite and form water? "What do you think they will do?" said Dr. W. I replied, that I should rather they would unite. "I see no reason to suppose it," said he. I then inquired whether he thought the experiment worth making. He answered, that he did not, for that he should think it would certainly not succeed.
A few days after, I proposed the same question to Sir Humphry Davy. He at once said, "they will become water, of course;" and on my inquiring whether he thought the experiment worth making, he observed that it was a good experiment, but one which it was hardly necessary to make, as it must succeed.
Reflections on the Decline of Science in England, and on Some of Its Causes (1830)

For one person who is blessed with the power of invention, many will always be found who have the capacity of applying principles.
ibid

He will also find that the high and independent spirit, which usually dwells in the breast of those who are deeply versed in scientific pursuits, is ill adapted for administrative appointments; and that even if successful, he must hear many things he disapproves, and raise no voice against them.
ibid

More Babbage quotations are at THIS LINK


JOC/EFR May 2011

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