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Littlewood, J. E. (1885-1977)
The infinitely competent can be uncreative.
In H. Eves Mathematical Circles Squared, Boston: Prindle, Weber and Schmidt, 1972.
Littlewood, J. E. (1885-1977)
I constantly meet people who are doubtful, generally without due reason, about their potential capacity [as mathematicians]. The first test is whether you got anything out of geometry. To have disliked or failed to get on with other [mathematical] subjects need mean nothing; much drill and drudgery is unavoidable before they can get started, and bad teaching can make them unintelligible even to a born mathematician.
A Mathematician's Miscellany, Methuen and Co., 1953.
Littlewood, J. E. (1885-1977)
It is possible for a mathematician to be "too strong" for a given occasion. He forces through, where another might be driven to a different, and possibly more fruitful, approach. (So a rock climber might force a dreadful crack, instead of finding a subtle and delicate route.)
A Mathematician's Miscellany, Methuen and Co., 1953.
Littlewood, J. E. (1885-1977)
In passing, I firmly believe that research should be offset by a certain amount of teaching, if only as a change from the agony of research. The trouble, however, I freely admit, is that in practice you get either no teaching, or else far too much.
"The Mathematician's Art of Work" in Bela Bollobas (ed.) Littlewood's Miscellany, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
Littlewood, J. E. (1885-1977)
I recall once saying that when I had given the same lecture several times I couldn't help feeling that they really ought to know it by now.
A Mathematician's Miscellany, Methuen and Co., 1953.
Littlewood, J. E. (1885-1977)
A good mathematical joke is better, and better mathematics, than a dozen mediocre papers.
A Mathematician's Miscellany, Methuen and Co., 1953.
Littlewood, J. E. (1885-1977)
It is true that I should have been surprised in the past to learn that Professor Hardy had joined the Oxford Group. But one could not say the adverse chance was 1:10. Mathematics is a dangerous profession; an appreciable proportion of us go mad, and then this particular event would be quite likely.
A Mathematician's Miscellany, Methuen and Co., 1953.
le Lionnais, Francois
Who has not been amazed to learn that the function y = e^x , like a phoenix rising again from its own ashes, is its own derivative?
Great Currents of Mathematical Thought, Vol. 1, New York: Dover Publications.
Lippman, Gabriel (1845-1921)
[On the Gaussian curve, remarked to Poincare:]
Experimentalists think that it is a mathematical theorem while the mathematicians believe it to be an experimental fact.
In D'Arcy Thompson, On Growth and Form, 1917.
Lichtenberg, Georg Christoph (1742 - 1799)
I have often noticed that when people come to understand a mathematical proposition in some other way than that of the ordinary demonstration, they promptly say, "Oh, I see. That's how it must be." This is a sign that they explain it to themselves from within their own system.

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