# Stanislaw Ulam

Polish-American mathematician

**Stanisław Marcin Ulam** (April 13, 1909 – May 13, 1984) was a Polish-American mathematician who participated in the Manhattan Project and proposed the Teller–Ulam design of thermonuclear weapons. He also invented nuclear pulse propulsion and developed a number of mathematical tools in number theory, set theory, ergodic theory, and algebraic topology.

## Quotes

edit**The mathematicians know a great deal about very little and the physicists very little about a great deal.***On the Ergodic Behavior of Dynamical Systems*(LA-2055, May 10, 1955) in Stanisław Marcin Ulam (1990).*Analogies between Analogies, The Mathematical Reports of S.M. Ulam and His Los Alamos Collaborators*. University of California Press.

- Whatever is worth saying, can be stated in fifty words or less.
- as quoted by Gian-Carlo Rota in
*Words spoken at the memorial service for S. M. Ulam (The Lodge, Los Alamos, New Mexico, May 17, 1984)*, published in*The Mathematical Intelligencer*, Volume 6, Number 4 / December, 1984

- as quoted by Gian-Carlo Rota in

- The first sign of senility is that a man forgets his theorems, the second sign is that he forgets to zip up, the third sign is that he forgets to zip down.
- Attributed in Paul Hoffman,
*The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdős and the Search for Mathematical Truth*(1998) - This has also been attributed, with variants, to Paul Erdős, who repeated the remark.

- Attributed in Paul Hoffman,

- I'm an agnostic. Sometimes I muse deeply on the forces that are for me invisible. When I am almost close to the idea of God, I feel immediately estranged by the horrors of this world, which he seems to tolerate...
- as quoted by Olgierd Budrewicz in The melting-pot revisited: twenty well-known Americans of Polish background, publish by Interpress, page 36, 1977.

- Do not lose your faith. A mighty fortress is our mathematics. Mathematics will rise to the challenge, as it always has.
- In Heinz R. Pagels,
*The Dreams of Reason: The Computer and the Rise of the Sciences of Complexity*, Ch. 3, p. 94; as quoted in*Gaither's Dictionary of Scientific Quotations*(Springer, 2008), p. 861

- In Heinz R. Pagels,

*Adventures of a Mathematician* - Third Edition (1991)

edit
- Sometimes I feel that a more rational explanation for all that has happened during my lifetime is that I am still only thirteen years old, reading Jules Verne or H. G. Wells, and have fallen asleep.
- Preface To the 1983 Edition, p. xxvii

**It is still an unending source of surprise for me to see how a few scribbles on a blackboard or on a sheet of paper could change the course of human affairs.**- Prologue, p. 5

- I thought that the description of Don Quixote's fight with the windmills the funniest thing imaginable.
- Chapter 1, Childhood, p. 12

- Thinking very hard about the same problem for several hours can produce a severe fatigue, close to a breakdown.
**I never really experienced a breakdown, but have felt "strange inside" two or three times during my life.**- Chapter 2, Student Years, p. 34

- For many years I was the youngest among my mathematical friends. It makes me melancholy to realize that I now have become the oldest in most groups of scientists.
- Chapter 2, Student Years, p. 37

- Ada came from Lwów. She was a very good looking girl who was studying mathematics at the University of Geneva.
**For a few years I had an off-and-on romance with her.**- Chapter 2, Student Years, p. 45 (On Ada Halpern...)

- It was not so much that I was doing mathematics, but rather that mathematics had taken possession of me.
- Chapter 3, Travels Abroad, p. 52

**It is most important in creative science not to give up. If you are an optimist you will be willing to "try" more than if you are a pessimist.**- Chapter 3, Travels Abroad, p. 55

- As a mathematician, von Neumann was quick, brilliant, efficient, and enormously broad in scientific interests beyond mathematics itself. He knew his technical abilities; his virtuosity in following complicated reasoning and his insights were supreme; yet he lacked absolute self confidence.
- Chapter 4, Princeton Days, p. 76

- With sixty professors there are roughly eighteen hundred pairs of professors. Out of that many pairs it was not surprising that there were some whose members did not like one another.
- Chapter 5, Harvard Years, p. 91

**In mathematics, as in physics, so much depends on chance, on a propitious moment.**- Chapter 5, Harvard Years, p. 95

**I am always amazed how much a certain facility with a special and apparently narrow technique can accomplish.**- Chapter 5, Harvard Years, p. 96

- There may be such a thing as habitual luck. People who are said to be lucky at cards probably have certain hidden talents for those games in which skill plays a role.
**It is like hidden parameters in physics, this ability that does not surface and that I like to call "habitual luck".**- Chapter 6, Transition And Crisis, p. 119

- In many cases, mathematics is an escape from reality. The mathematician finds his own monastic niche and happiness in pursuits that are disconnected from external affairs. Some practice it as if using a drug.
- Chapter 6, Transition And Crisis, p. 120

- Thanks to my memory, which enabled me to quote Latin and to discuss Greek and Roman civilization, it became obvious to some of my colleagues in other fields that I was interested in things outside mathematics. This lead quickly to very pleasant relationships.
- Chapter 7, The University of Wisconsin, p. 125

**Very soon I discovered that if one gets a feeling for no more than a dozen other radiation and nuclear constants, one can imagine the subatomic world almost tangibly, and manipulate the picture dimensionally and qualitatively, before calculating more precise relationships.**- Chapter 8, Los Alamos, p. 148

**The story that Dick Feynman could open safes whose combinations had been forgotten by their owners is true.**- Chapter 8, Los Alamos, p. 169

- I was still very hopeful that much work lay ahead of me. Perhaps because much of what I had worked on or thought about had not yet been put into writing, I felt I still had things in reserve.
**Given this optimistic nature, I feel this way even now when I am past sixty.**- Chapter 10, Back At Los Alamos, p. 208

**Even the simplest calculation in the purest mathematics can have terrible consequences. Without the invention of the infinitesimal calculus most of our technology would have been impossible. Should we say therefore that calculus is bad?**- Chapter 11, The 'Super', p. 222

**According to recent studies, at least one star out of three is multiple.**- Chapter 13, Government Science, p. 258

- By an incredible coincidence, Gamow and Edward Condon, who had discovered simultaneously and independently the explanation of radioactivity (one in Russia, the other in this country), came to spend the the last ten years of their lives within a hundred yards of each other in Boulder.
- Chapter 14, Professor Again, p. 267

**What exactly is mathematics? Many have tried but nobody has really succeeded in defining mathematics; it is always something else.**- Chapter 15, Random Reflections on Mathematics and Science, p. 273-274

- In its evolution from a more primitive nervous system, the brain, as an organ with ten or more billion neurons and many more connections between them must have changed and grown as a result of many accidents.
- Chapter 15, Random Reflections on Mathematics and Science, p. 274

**It is not so much whether a theorem is useful that matters, but how elegant it is.**- Chapter 15, Random Reflections on Mathematics and Science, p. 274

- As one sharpens a knife on a whetstone, the brain can be sharpened on dull objects of thought. Every form of assiduous thinking has its value.
- Chapter 15, Random Reflections on Mathematics and Science, p. 278

**Thoughts are steered in different ways.**- Chapter 15, Random Reflections on Mathematics and Science, p. 275

- I am turned off when I see only formulas and symbols, and little text.
- Chapter 15, Random Reflections on Mathematics and Science, p. 275

- Mathematics may be a way of developing physically, that is anatomically, new connections in the brain.
- Chapter 15, Random Reflections on Mathematics and Science, p. 277

## Quotes about Stanislaw Ulam

edit- [I]t was seeing the gist, the inner core of a problem, that enabled him to open so many new roads—roads that often led to new branches of mathematics. ...Cellular automata theory, which he proposed to von Neumann; the Monte Carlo method of solving intractable problems, not only in probability theory but in areas such as number theory where the method would not have been thought applicable; and his work on nonlinear processes that anticipated today's interest in solitons and "chaos." We still do not know—it remains a government secret—what jumped into Ulam's head that made it possible for Edward Teller to build the H-bomb.
- Martin Gardner, Preface,
*Science, Computers, and People: From the Tree of Mathematics*(1986) by Stanislaw M. Ulam.

- Martin Gardner, Preface,
- Teller’s calculations were faulty; his prototype would have been a dud. This was first noticed by Stanislaw Ulam... Having shown that the Teller scheme was a nonstarter, Ulam produced, in his typically absent-minded fashion, a workable alternative. “I found him at home at noon staring intensely out of a window with a very strange expression on his face,” Ulam’s wife recalled. “I can never forget
**his faraway look as peering unseeing in the garden, he said in a thin voice—I can still hear it—‘I found a way to make it work.’**”- quoted in Holt, Jim. "How the Computers Exploded | Jim Holt" (in en). ISSN 0028-7504.

- I contributed; Ulam did not. I'm sorry I had to answer it in this abrupt way. Ulam was rightly dissatisfied with an old approach. He came to me with a part of an idea which I already had worked out and difficulty getting people to listen to. He was willing to sign a paper. When it then came to defending that paper and really putting work into it, he refused. He said, "I don't believe in it."
- Edward Teller, On the creation of the hydrogen bomb, in "Infamy and honor at the Atomic Café : Edward Teller has no regrets about his contentious career" by Gary Stix in
*Scientific American*(October 1999), p. 42-43.

- Edward Teller, On the creation of the hydrogen bomb, in "Infamy and honor at the Atomic Café : Edward Teller has no regrets about his contentious career" by Gary Stix in

- With his unusual looks and magnetic green eyes, he always seemed to stand out in a crowd. I remember a party years later when Georgia O'Keefe pointed an imperious finger in his direction and exclaimed
**"Who is that man?"**- Françoise Ulam, Adventures of a Mathematician, Postscript To Adventures, p. 306

- Engraved on my memory is the day when I found him at noon staring intensely out of a window in our living room with a strange expression on his face. Peering unseeing into the garden, he said "I found a way to make it work." "What work?" I asked. "The Super" he replied. "It is a totally different scheme, and it will change the course of history."
- Françoise Ulam, Adventures of a Mathematician, Postscript To Adventures, p. 311