I have a vague memory of reading once that somebody (maybe a journalist) asked Poincaré how had he been capable of solving all those fantastically difficult problems that he had solved. The answer was simply “I thought a lot about them”.

Has anyone more details about this history? I hope that it is not just a product of my imagination.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Poincare delivered a lecture to the Societe de Psychologie in Paris, published as an essay Mathematical Creation, detailing exactly how he thought a lot about them and reflecting on how he thought it worked, so this sounds anecdotal. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Jun 21 at 22:46
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ A similar thought is credited to Isaac Newton, "By always thinking unto them . I keep the subject constantly before me , and wait till the first dawnings open slowly by little and little into a full and clear light " . Poincaré might have been quoting Newton. $\endgroup$ Jun 22 at 10:46
  • $\begingroup$ @JoséCarlosSantos Of course tracking down where (& if) Newton said this is another question. It seems to have been popularized by F. Nietzsche, who read it in Biot's biography of Newton. $\endgroup$ Jun 23 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ @kimchilover In fact, Wikiquote doesn't even mention it. $\endgroup$ Jun 23 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ Indirectly, thru en.wikiquote.org/wiki/George_Henry_Lewes (search for Newton on that page) $\endgroup$ Jun 23 at 17:51


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.