Quotations by Maxime Bôcher


I like to look at mathematics almost more as an art than as a science; for the activity of the mathematician, constantly creating as he is, guided although not controlled by the external world of senses, bears a resemblance, not fanciful I believe, but real, to the activities of the artist, of a painter, let us say. Just as one cannot become a painter without a certain amount of skill, so one cannot become a mathematician without the power to reason accurately up to a certain point. Yet these qualities, fundamental though they are, do not make a painter or mathematician worthy of the name, nor indeed are they the most important factors in the case. Other qualities of a far more subtle sort, chief among which in both cases is imagination, go to the making of a good artist or of a good mathematician.
Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society 11 1904, 133.

... there is what may perhaps be called the method of optimism which leads us either wilfully or instinctively to shut our eyes to the possibility of evil. Thus the optimist who treats a problem in algebra or analytic geometry will say, if he stops to reflect on what he is doing: "I know that I have no right to divide by zero; but there are so many other values which the expression by which I am dividing might have that I will assume that the Evil One has not thrown a zero in my denominator this time."
Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society 11 1904, 134.


JOC/EFR February 2006

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