Quotation for the week: Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe — poet, playwright and philosopher — is one of the towering figures of European culture. Unfortunately, when he ventured into science his contributions were less enduring. This quotation might explain why. (The translation is mine; the national stereotyping is Goethe’s own.)

Die Mathematiker sind eine Art Franzosen: redet man zu ihnen, so übersetzen sie es in ihre Sprache, und dann ist es alsobald ganz etwas Anderes. [Mathematicians are a kind of Frenchman: you tell them something; they translate it into their own language; and hey presto! it means something completely different.]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Maximen und Reflexionen (1829), 1005.

I’m not saying he doesn’t have a point sometimes, mind.


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