Carl Friedrich Gauss

I mean the word proof not in the sense of the lawyers, who set two half proofs equal to a whole one, but in the sense of a mathematician, where ½ proof = 0, and it is demanded for proof that every doubt becomes impossible.

Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss (30 April 177723 February 1855) was a German mathematician, astronomer and physicist.


  • But in our opinion truths of this kind should be drawn from notions rather than from notations.
    • About the proof of Wilson's theorem. Disquisitiones Arithmeticae (1801) Article 76
  • The problem of distinguishing prime numbers from composite numbers and of resolving the latter into their prime factors is known to be one of the most important and useful in arithmetic. It has engaged the industry and wisdom of ancient and modern geometers to such an extent that it would be superfluous to discuss the problem at length. ... Further, the dignity of the science itself seems to require that every possible means be explored for the solution of a problem so elegant and so celebrated.
    • Problema, numeros primos a compositis dignoscendi, hosque in factores suos primos resolvendi, ad gravissima ac utilissima totius arithmeticae pertinere, et geometrarum tum veterum tum recentiorum industriam ac sagacitatem occupavisse, tam notum est, ut de hac re copiose loqui superfluum foret. ... [P]raetereaque scientiae dignitas requirere videtur, ut omnia subsidia ad solutionem problematis tam elegantis ac celebris sedulo excolantur.
    • Disquisitiones Arithmeticae (1801): Article 329
  • The enchanting charms of this sublime science reveal themselves in all their beauty only to those who have the courage to go deeply into it. But when a person of that sex, that, because of our mores and our prejudices, has to encounter infinitely more obstacles and difficulties than men in familiarizing herself with these thorny research problems, nevertheless succeeds in surmounting these obstacles and penetrating their most obscure parts, she must without doubt have the noblest courage, quite extraordinary talents and superior genius.
    • Letter to Sophie Germain (30 April 1807) ([...]; les charmes enchanteurs de cette sublime science ne se décèlent dans toute leur beauté qu'à ceux qui ont le courage de l'approfondir. Mais lorsqu'une personne de ce sexe, qui, par nos meurs [sic] et par nos préjugés, doit rencontrer infiniment plus d'obstacles et de difficultés, que les hommes, à se familiariser avec ces recherches épineuses, sait néanmoins franchir ces entraves et pénétrer ce qu'elles ont de plus caché, il faut sans doute, qu'elle ait le plus noble courage, des talents tout à fait extraordinaires, le génie superieur.)
  • It is not knowledge, but the act of learning, not possession but the act of getting there, which grants the greatest enjoyment. [Wahrlich es ist nicht das Wissen, sondern das Lernen, nicht das Besitzen sondern das Erwerben, nicht das Da-Seyn, sondern das Hinkommen, was den grössten Genuss gewährt.] 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, stretches out his arms for others.
  • I mean the word proof not in the sense of the lawyers, who set two half proofs equal to a whole one, but in the sense of a mathematician, where ½ proof = 0, and it is demanded for proof that every doubt becomes impossible.
    • In a letter to Heinrich Wilhelm Matthias Olbers (14 May 1826), defending Chevalier d'Angos against presumption of guilt (by Johann Franz Encke and others), of having falsely claimed to have discovered a comet in 1784; as quoted in Calculus Gems (1992) by George F. Simmons
  • We must admit with humility that, while number is purely a product of our minds, space has a reality outside our minds, so that we cannot completely prescribe its properties a priori.
  • To praise it would amount to praising myself. For the entire content of the work ... coincides almost exactly with my own meditations which have occupied my mind for the past thirty or thirty-five years.
  • I will add that I have recently received from Hungary a little paper on non-Euclidean geometry in which I rediscover all my own ideas and results worked out with great elegance... The writer is a very young Austrian officer, the son of one of my early friends, with whom I often discussed the subject in 1798, although my ideas were at that time far removed from the development and maturity which they have received through the original reflections of this young man. I consider the young geometer J. Bolyai a genius of the first rank.
  • Mathematics is the queen of the sciences.
    • As quoted in Gauss zum Gedächtniss (1856) by Wolfgang Sartorius von Waltershausen; Variants: Mathematics is the queen of sciences and number theory is the queen of mathematics. She often condescends to render service to astronomy and other natural sciences, but in all relations she is entitled to the first rank.
      Mathematics is the queen of the sciences and number theory is the queen of mathematics. [Die Mathematik ist die Königin der Wissenschaften und die Zahlentheorie ist die Königin der Mathematik.]
  • It may be true, that men, who are mere mathematicians, have certain specific shortcomings, but that is not the fault of mathematics, for it is equally true of every other exclusive occupation. So there are mere philologists, mere jurists, mere soldiers, mere merchants, etc. To such idle talk it might further be added: that whenever a certain exclusive occupation is coupled with specific shortcomings, it is likewise almost certainly divorced from certain other shortcomings.
    • Gauss-Schumacher Briefwechsel (1862)
  • Ask her to wait a moment— I am almost done.
    • When told, while working, that his wife was dying. As quoted in Men of Mathematics (1937) by E. T. Bell
  • I have had my results for a long time: but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them.
    • The Mind and the Eye (1954) by A. Arber
  • If others would but reflect on mathematical truths as deeply and as continuously as I have, they would make my discoveries.
    • The World of Mathematics (1956) Edited by J. R. Newman
  • I confess that Fermat's Theorem as an isolated proposition has very little interest for me, because I could easily lay down a multitude of such propositions, which one could neither prove nor dispose of.
    • A reply to Olbers' 1816 attempt to entice him to work on Fermat's Theorem. As quoted in The World of Mathematics (1956) Edited by J. R. Newman
  • There are problems to whose solution I would attach an infinitely greater importance than to those of mathematics, for example touching ethics, or our relation to God, or concerning our destiny and our future; but their solution lies wholly beyond us and completely outside the province of science.
    • As quoted in The World of Mathematics (1956) Edited by J. R. Newman
  • Finally, two days ago, I succeeded— not on account of my hard efforts, but by the grace of the Lord. Like a sudden flash of lightning, the riddle was solved. I am unable to say what was the conducting thread that connected what I previously knew with what made my success possible.
    • Mathematical Circles Squared (1972) by Howard W. Eves
  • I believe you are more believing in the Bible than I. I am not, and, you are much happier than I.
    • A reply to Rudolf Wagner's on his religious views as quoted in Carl Friedrich Gauss: Titan of Science (2004) by Guy Waldo Dunnington. p. 305.
  • A great part of its theories derives an additional charm from the peculiarity that important propositions, with the impress of simplicity on them, are often easily discovered by induction, and yet are of so profound a character that we cannot find the demonstrations till after many vain attempts; and even then, when we do succeed, it is often by some tedious and artificial process, while the simple methods may long remain concealed.
    • On higher arithmetic. Mathematical Circles Adieu (1977) by Howard W. Eves
  • I am coming more and more to the conviction that the necessity of our geometry cannot be demonstrated, at least neither by, nor for, the human intellect. . . Geometry should be ranked, not with arithmetic, which is purely aprioristic, but with mechanics.
    • As quoted in Solid Shape (1990) by Jan J. Koenderink
  • You know that I write slowly. This is chiefly because I am never satisfied until I have said as much as possible in a few words, and writing briefly takes far more time than writing at length.
    • As quoted in Calculus Gems (1992) by George F. Simmons
  • In general the position as regards all such new calculi is this - That one cannot accomplish by them anything that could not be accomplished without them. However, the advantage is, that, provided such a calculus corresponds to the inmost nature of frequent needs, anyone who masters it thoroughly is able - without the unconscious inspiration of genius which no one can command - to solve the respective problems, yea to solve them mechanically in complicated cases in which, without such aid, even genius becomes powerless. Such is the case with the invention of general algebra, with the differential calculus, and in a more limited region with Lagrange's calculus of variations, with my calculus of congruences, and with Mobius's calculus. Such conceptions unite, as it were, into an organic whole countless problems which otherwise would remain isolated and require for their separate solution more or less application of inventive genius.
    • As quoted in Gauss, Werke, Bd. 8, page 298
    • As quoted in Memorabilia Mathematica (or The Philomath's Quotation-Book) (1914) by Robert Edouard Moritz, quotation #1215
    • As quoted in The First Systems of Weighted Differential and Integral Calculus (1980) by Jane Grossman, Michael Grossman, and Robert Katz, page ii

Quotes about GaussEdit

  • Not only could nobody but Gauss have produced it, but it would never have occurred to anyone but Gauss that such a formula was possible.
    • Of Gauss' formula for finding the date of Passover; Albert Einstein, quoted in Schocken, W. A. (1976): The Calculated Confusion of Calendars, pub. Vantage Press
  • If explaining minds seems harder than explaining songs, we should remember that sometimes enlarging problems makes them simpler! The theory of the roots of equations seemed hard for centuries within its little world of real numbers, but it suddenly seemed simple once Gauss exposed the larger world of so-called complex numbers. Similarly, music should make more sense once seen through listeners' minds.
  • According to his frequently expressed view, Gauss considered the three dimensions of space as specific peculiarities of the human soul; people, which are unable to comprehend this, he designated in his humorous mood by the name Bœotians. We could imagine ourselves, he said, as beings which are conscious of but two dimensions; higher beings might look at us in a like manner, and continuing jokingly, he said that he had laid aside certain problems which, when in a higher state of being, he hoped to investigate geometrically.

The Music of the Primes (2003)Edit

Quotations about some of the work of Gauss from a book about Prime Numbers by Marcus du Sautoy, professor of mathematics at Oxford University
  • Gauss liked to call [number theory] 'the Queen of Mathematics'. For Gauss, the jewels in the crown were the primes, numbers which had fascinated and teased generations of mathematicians.
  • Armed with his prime number tables, Gauss began his quest. As he looked at the proportion of numbers that were prime, he found that when he counted higher and higher a pattern started to emerge. Despite the randomness of these numbers, a stunning regularity seemed to be looming out of the mist.
  • The revelation that the graph appears to climb so smoothly, even though the primes themselves are so unpredictable, is one of the most miraculous in mathematics and represents one of the high points in the story of the primes. On the back page of his book of logarithms, Gauss recorded the discovery of his formula for the number of primes up to N in terms of the logarithm function. Yet despite the importance of the discovery, Gauss told no one what he had found. The most the world heard of his revelation were the cryptic words, 'You have no idea how much poetry there is in a table of logarithms.'
  • Maybe we have become so hung up on looking at the primes from Gauss's and Riemann's perspective that what we are missing is simply a different way to understand these enigmatic numbers. Gauss gave an estimate for the number of primes, Riemann predicted that the guess is at worst the square root of N off its mark, Littlewood showed that you can't do better than this. Maybe there is an alternative viewpoint that no one has found because we have become so culturally attached to the house that Gauss built.

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Last modified on 9 April 2014, at 17:35